Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Review: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I just finished this one on the subway home from work, after starting it yesterday. I have to write about it now, even though I have a million things to do to prepare for my trip to England on Tuesday morning (working 8 days in a row and then picking up an extra shift tomorrow night isn't giving me much time to do laundry, pack, clean the apartment, go to the bank, print the eulogy and my tickets etc etc). I just have to write about this one now because I want to do it while it is still fresh in my mind.

No wonder this novel won the National Book Award. It's AMAZING. The story is about several lives that are intertwined in NYC in the 70's: Corrigan and his brother Ciaran, Irish immigrants living in the Bronx, Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, two prostitutes in the Bronx that Corrigan looks after, Clare and her husband Solomon, parents who are mourning the untimely death of their son in Vietnam, Lara and her husband, artists who are still looking for themselves through art and drugs, as well as quite a few others, lesser characters, but just as important and interesting.

Colum McCann starts the story with Philippe Petit's incredible feat of walking between the Twin Towers on a cable, and proceeds to use this as a back story for all the entire book. On the day that Petit walks across the wire different events happen that will change the lives of all characters for the rest of their lives. Although the narrative goes back in time and into the future to give background on some of the characters and events, the main storyline is based in this week in August 1974.

Rich, full of emotion and feelings that everyone can empathise with, this book is literally magical. Not only that, it creates a real vision of NYC, one that really exists, a city of everything, paradoxical and alive, one that anyone who has lived in NYC will immediately recognise. It's going to take me a while to get this book out of my mind, I think I am still a little overwhelmed.

At the end of the edition I read there is an interview with McCann by Nathan Englander. One of the questions was "Let The Great World Spin paints a broad picture of New York. Do you want to talk about the various worlds you walk us through?". McCann's answer really does explain it all, and I have to say that he succeeded in what he set out to do: "I wanted it to be a Whitmanesque song of the city, with everything in there - high and low, rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic. Hungry, exhausted, filthy, vivacious, everything this lovely city is. I wanted to catch some of that music and slap it down on the page so that even those who have never been to New York can be temporarily transported there."

Read it - you won't be sorry.

Colum McCann
Man On Wire - Philippe Petit documentary

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