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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 10, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    Let the Great World Spin

    Fiona McCann

    Colum McCann writes poetically, and the structure of this novel that stretches between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre is clever and fitting. But sometimes a novel that everybody else extolls just doesn’t vibrate on your personal frequency, and so it was for me with Let The Great World Spin. There are moments of beautiful language, arcs of feeling pinned onto the pages in careful prose. But something about these characters remained distant, almost unreal to me, and there is a self-consciousness to the prose style that takes from its emotional resonance. There is music here, and beauty, and an intelligent craftsman at work, but Let The Great World Spin finally fails to complete the human connection. It’s a novel that never reaches the heights that make for its central metaphor, and to which it so clealry aspires. But that’s just what I thought: the New York Times was enamoured and the National Book Award judges clearly impressed. Anyone else remain unconvinced?

    • Your readers may not be aware that the prestigious French literary review, LIRE, (partnered by RTL) has elected Colum McCann’s novel (translated as ‘Et qui le vaste monde poursuive sa course folle,’ and published by Belfond) as Best Book of the Year; the current issue of the magazine carries an over-view of the novel. That’s no mean feat. Some may say that this is merely because the central character, Petit, is himself French. But I think serious congratulations are due to McCann for this achievement. LIRE describes McCann as “a writer who writes as if on a spiritual quest.” Nice one, Colum. It makes up nicely for Thierry’s sleight-of-hand!

    • Tormentor says:

      Speaking only for myself, it seems the lesson for young writers in the success of McCann’s book and O’Neill’s Netherland is that overwrought novels that deal painstakingly with 9/11 will win plaudits and awards from the NY literary cognoscenti. It’s probably the only way to sell literary fiction these days.

      Disagreeing with the NY Times is a good thing.

    • mary says:

      Just started to read it and I love it but have put it aside as I have so many other books on the go, think it needs my full attention.

    • Lucy says:

      As the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal wrote, it’s an overwritten, scattered novel that doesn’t really add up to much.

      Quite telling, too, that the novel was left off all three of the NYTimes “10 Best Books of the Year” lists.

    • Gerry Mac Donagh says:

      Flavour of the month,recipe for cooking a book bestseller! here goes ,Step one Set it in New York, Step two add dollops of seventies nostalgia(very trendy) dont forget the 9 11 temperature! now,! Mix in heavy doses of cliched characters,clergy with hearts of gold, whores with hearts of gold etc etc ;Step three,Use tried and tested formula of different stories with one focus ie Petit the wire walker, and use him as a symbol of ,well something or other,Anyway step four Be Irish and finally get Oprahs secretarys number

    • Gerry Mac Donagh says:

      Fred,Its because the character of petit is french and to call LIRE mag prestigious is pushing it ,its an average review

    • jamesinparis says:

      I wouldn’t quite put the French literary magazine LIRE in the prestigious category, it’s a taste follower and not a taste maker, it targets a wide-range of middle-brow consumers, not intellectuals of any sort : France proposes plenty of other publications for those who take literature more seriously.
      If it’s got an issue dedicated to McCann’s book, it’s not because they’ve read it, but because it’s been lauded with laurels by someone important.

    • Kevin says:

      I really liked the novel. I found the characters absolutely compelling, even minor figures like the judge. But what really drew me in was its tone and pace, the feel of it. In fact, I think I’m going to award it my Book of the Year!

    • Eduardo says:

      As we’re discussing overwritten, overhyped underwhelming novels, may I please submit Cormac McCarthys “the road” to the learned contributors here. Never before have I read anything as uninspiring. A poorly written book celebrated because of the authors other achievements. PS Netherlands was another difficult, unenjoyable read.

    • Fred Johnston says:

      ‘jamesinparis’ could have made the same remarks about The Irish Times. Most book reviews in the IT, sadly, have become little more than jacket-blurbs waiting to be born. If a book of mine were ” lauded with laurels by someone important” in France, I would be quite happy, thank you. I don’t think we should be so ready to dismiss LIRE.

    • As we’re discussing overwritten, overhyped underwhelming novels, may I please submit Cormac McCarthys “the road” to the learned contributors here. Never before have I read anything as uninspiring.

    • Fitzer says:

      Having sat down to do a review on Let the Great World Spin for my book club, I have tried with difficulty to find a review which matches my feelings about the book until I found your article. Tedious and uninspiring, I actually found it a chore to continue reading it. The only character who felt “real” to me was Gloria who we get to know towards the end of the book. It cannot even begin to compare with the genius and awful beauty of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

    • vivienne says:

      As we’re discussing overwritten, overhyped underwhelming novels, may I please submit Cormac McCarthys “the road” to the learned contributors here. Never before have I read anything as uninspiring.


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