modern novel

Book Review, “Night Train to Lisbon”

Night Train to Lisbon
by Pascal Mercier
Translated by Barbara Harshav
Grove Press, 2008
392 pp

“Last Train to Lisbon” was going to be read in a book club a friend of mine belonged to. The club started it, then decided to drop it. Another friend started reading it and has yet to complete it.

The criticisms were consistent: it was too long; it was too windy; it was too dense; the memoir writing was too tedious and philosophical; there were too many characters; there were too many scene shifts.

Well, I’m here to say. I finished the novel. In fact, I read it twice. What can I say? I was an English teacher. I love a challenge.

On the surface, the story is really quite simple: an aging philology teacher finds a book of memoirs in a book store. He starts to read them. The author of the memoirs was a Portuguese doctor and a resistance fighter during the Salazar dictatorship.

Gregorius, the teacher, has found his fantasized soul mate in this resistance fighter, Amadeu Prado, a brooding and tortured aristocrat, a “goldsmith of words” who destines himself “to rescue the silent experiences of human life from their muteness.” Continue reading


Book Review: Let The Great World Spin

Let The Great World Spin
Colum McCann
Random House, 2009

Except for a brief time in Dublin, McCann’s setting for this novel is in New York City during the Vietnam/Nixon-resignation years. And what a city it is: artists, clergy, prostitutes, judges, black/white/latino/Irish, computer geeks and hackers, street magicians—a veritable urban dream world.

McCann uses the famous event of the French tightroper walker and brilliantly fictionalizes it back into existence. It is the event that often grounds the novel (I would have to say that that event loses its force in the last two chapters when Tillie and Jaslyn narrate). Continue reading


Infinities by John Banville

John Banville
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
273 pp

“….the gods love to eavesdrop on the secret lives of others.” So says the novel’s narrator and mythological character, Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, the cave woman.

If we’ve forgotten our mythology 101, Hermes is also the messenger. And does he have a story to tell, a very modern story about ordinary human interactions and relationships and a story in the ancient classical tradition about love, larger-than-life genius, death, destiny, unrequited love. Continue reading


“Big Machine” by Victor LaValle

Big Machine
Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperbacks
New York, 2010
370 pp

In all of the reviewing I have done over the years, I don’t ever recall using a statement from an author’s acknowledgment page.

When I read the last paragraph and then went back to look at the last page of the narrative itself, there appeared to be some covert, even tendentious wrapping up, some moral statement LaValle seemed to be making in this part allegory, part fantasy, part gothic, part magic-realism, part gruesome, grim-reality novel. Continue reading