06 June 2010

Book Club - my review

Let The Great World Spin is a collage of stories, or a patchwork maybe, but all the stories and lives intersect, they are linked by the man on the wire who draws the eyes to an epicentre of New York, and also links the stories of then with the stories of now.

What drew me in immediately was the mastery and craft of the writer, the moments of breathtaking lucidity, when the words suddenly mean so much more than they seem to at first:

Rather, it was the manshape that held them there, their necks craned, torn between the promise of doom and the disappointment of the ordinary. (Page 1)

From the beginning, the wire and the man who tower over New York are introduced, and on page 6 a time yet to come is foreseen, when bodies fell from those towers:

“many of the watchers realized with a shiver that no matter what they said, they really wanted to witness a great fall, see someone arc downward all that distance, to disappear from the sight line, flail, smash to the ground…

The book’s structure is clever and works very well: each story is introduced as a chapter (book)  Book one starts in Ireland  with the Corrigan brothers.  Book 2 introduces Claire, who has lost a son in the Vietnam war (echoes of Iraq and Afghanistan. In Claire’s story, the present and the past are weaved throughout the day.

Each time, with each story, the background is set, but when it comes to the characters, the reader is surprised, never more than with Claire’s story; this rich, educated, feminist woman who lives on Park Avenue is expecting a group of friends, and while the reader at first expects a group of intellectuals or ladies who lunch, grief is what happens.

Whereas the book, and the plot are ostensibly about a day in New York, about lives drawn together by chance or fate, and also about a day much later in New York, when lives were also drawn together by fate, I also read many other things in the story.

There was a theme of fitting in, or not fitting in. Corrigan, the pure of heart, tries to fit in with the poor and the lost, cannot fit in with the brothers of his order.  The Irish who do and don’t fit in New York, the two white men who stand out in the projects, Claire who doesn’t fit in to the group of women, she is too rich, too different.  And yet all of them fit in New York, are part of that city on that day.

It’s a story about memory, memories, and memories not yet lived – the end of the book brings us to the present time, and whereas it is no “happy ever after” ending, there is a release and resolution of sorts.  There are memories within the book, from the occasional narrator (Corrigan’s brother):

“I can still after all these years sit in the museum of those afternoons and recall the light spilling over the carpet.”

There are memories from grieving mothers who meet to remember and tell the stories of their dead sons.

The book is about death and memory: there are  echoes of deaths in the twin towers and memories of that day now embedded in a day that came before, it is about death and the power of stories .

“Photographs keep the dead alive, the girl had said. Not true. So much more than photographs. So much more. “

about death and grief:

“The simple things come back to us. They rest for a moment by our ribcages then suddenly reach in and twist our hearts a notch backwards.”

The book is also about family:: Corrigan and his brother, Claire and her son, the mothers and their sons, Gloria and the girls she fosters, who are also the daughters of one of the main characters,  and Jazzlyn and Tillie, the mother-and-daughter prostitutes.

Family is like water – it has a memory of what it once filled, always trying to get back to the original stream.

The book is about God, religion, and moral dilemmas. Corrigan’s  brother remembers a myth he once heard about 36 hidden saints and the hidden saint, the forgotten one:

“Corrigan had lost his line with God: he bore the sorrows on his own, the story of stories.”

It’s a book about life, death, love, grief, family, redemption, and New York.  There is so much there, so much to talk about,  that as a book club read, it would demand a long conversation, about the characters, the story, the writing, the themes, and this is a conversation that I hope we may have if our book club members meet in person

It is one of the best books I read this year, and my friends and family can expect it as a present if they haven’t read it yet…. And if this review is all over the place, it’s because I’m away and wrote it from notes I had taken, and I will end it with a quote which I loved:

“he said something strange about words being good for saying what things are, but sometimes they don’t function for what things aren’t.”

Book Club - Lily's review

Lily was homeless/blogless this week, so this is her temporary abode, and her review is below:

Thanks to Cathy for taking in this temporarily homeless blogger. Middle son is to sort out my blog but problem is I haven't yet reached top spot on his 'to do' list. His moving to San Francisco for the summer and small things like finding an apartment and lots of work are currently higher on the pecking order than sorting his mum's online home. :) He assures me he will soon get me sorted so I will be back in action shortly. I'm looking forward to returning to blogging.

Back to the job in hand - A review of 'Let The Great World Spin' by Colum McCann.

I really enjoyed this book. It's quite a long read, and I don't know if it was just me being busy, thus taking up and putting down a number of times, but I found it took me a little bit to get to the stage where I was really enjoying it. It was very worth persisting though. 

Colum McCann wove the story around an event which occurred in August 1974 where Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Centre towers. McCann very cleverly created a great work of fiction around this event. 

The story is told through eleven characters in New York City; Corrigan, an Irish monk working in the Bronx with a group of prostitutes including Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, herself a mother of two small girls; Claire, wife of Solomen, a judge, who lives on Park Avenue; Lara an artist with drug and husband problems; Gloria mother of three sons lost in the Vietnam war. And more. In McCann's story, the tightrope walker remains anonymous and unrelated to the characters in the story.

Each subsequent focus on a character brings the whole story along with the thread of the tightrope walker (or should that be the rope of the ...!) weaving it together.

I liked McCann's writing style. His revealing of plot line is very clever. Very quietly he adds in the outcome of the court case brought against the tightrope walker through Adelita wondering about Corrigan's reaction to the outcome of Tillie's versus the latter's case, both cases being heard on the same day.

McCann could create very credible female characters. He showed great empathy with the female form. One could really sense Claire's loss and loneliness in her pent-house apartment. Yet life as a hooker down in the Bronx was equally credible. He could describe Claire not wanting to let Gloria go on the day of the meet-up and Gloria's need to get away.

The tightrope walker almost acted as a metaphor throughout the book, people's trying to achieve balance in their lives, dealing with death in Vietnam, dealing with guilt from causing a car accident, dealing with the loss of a loved one in that car accident ...

All except the final chapter of the book are set around the few days in August 1974. The final chapter jumps thirty two years to 2006. McCann in my estimation ended the book well.

In conclusion, the construction of this story is very different and very refreshing. I'd definitely recommend this book.