Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann - Book Review

Let the Great World Spin My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Set in the late summer of 1974, Colum McCann’s novel is the story of lives that touch and the centre of the story is Petit’s high wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. The character’s seemingly disparate stories are interwoven around that walk.

There’s Corrigan the Irish monk who lives among prostitutes and drug dealers in the Bronx and his brother Ciaran who comes to visit and struggles to understand his younger brother and what motivates him. Have to say I couldn’t understand either of them. There are the prostitutes Jazzlyn and her mother, Tillie, struggling to survive in a world of drugs and violence, a group of mothers whose sons have died in Vietnam have formed to mourn their sons and support each other but find that too much divides them. An artistic, wealthy and decadent couple complete the list of characters and their actions have a great impact on the lives of other characters.

I’ll come clean at this point and admit that it didn’t take me long to realise this book just wasn’t my cup of tea! I had read glowing descriptions and reviews about it, so I kept going. All those others couldn't be wrong. Could they? However if I hadn’t been reading it to review I would have given up by page 31.

Why didn’t I like it. Well maybe I wasn’t in the right mood to read this book, I was feeling quite down due to family worries. I have to say that very few of the characters interested me and I found the themes and language depressing. I will admit that at times I found his writing absolutely beautiful. His descriptions of the training that Petit did were wonderful but I found I couldn’t get interested in the tightrope walker at all. There was nothing elicited about the character, only his tightrope walking.

The stories of the various characters varied significantly but I found nearly all of them depressing and a couple seemed totally irrelevant. The first story which set up the main tragedy of the book started really well with the two Irish brothers growing up in Dublin. However very soon it descended in to gloom and darkness, with the characters’ lives full of drugs, prostitution and death in New York. I would never have got beyond this part of the book if left to myself. Two of the stories just bored me, the photographer riding the subway and the computer hackers. There were touches of humour but not enough of them to lighten the novel for me. I sound as though all I want from a book is happy characters and a happy ending, I don’t. One of my favourite books is Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. That book reduced me to tears at times but then within minutes I was laughing my head off and the characters were so full of life. Let The Great World Spin just didn’t move me at all.

Still I plodded on reminding myself that luckily once I had finished, I had a PG Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster book and a couple of the wonderful Patrick O’Brian novels about Aubrey and Maturin to lift my spirits. As I said earlier maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for this book and I should try it again when I'm in a more positive mood.

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Post No 155


  1. Winifred, My suggestion, for what it's worth. Don't torture yourself reading such a dark, depressing, novel. You would probably end up having to get a prescription for Prozac. Read something uplifting and enjoyable. It sounds like your plate has been full lately so you don't need gloom and doom.
    I hope your husband is improving more each day. I wish you good health as well. Take care :)

  2. Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but...there are (quite a few?) books about which others have raved and they just weren't right for me. I've just decided that since reading is a hobby, I might as well read what I enjoy. My favorite book lately? The Carrie Diaries. Sometimes being a pea-brain works for me. Okay, maybe more than sometimes.

  3. As a librarian I must advise you to read 50 pages and if it doesn't grab you by then, give it up.

    As to your personal life, I hope all is well.

    Read something fun and uplifting and remember that you have many friends.

  4. Angela's Ashes set in Ireland was very depressing as well but yet it pulled me and kept me there for the entire book, maybe because it had nothing to do with drugs and prostitutes but more the circumstances of human kind.

  5. I shan't bother with that one then Winifred. I too have read books which have bored me rigid. I do try to finish them but there are one or two I have given up on. One I read on holiday recently and loved was "The Forgotten Garden".

    I have left a tag for you at my blog if you would like to take it up. A x

  6. Me again Winifred - I have been away recently and reading some of the other comments it seems you have had some problems lately. I know you lost your puss cat recently but I do hope all is well for you otherwise. A x

  7. I enjoyed your review, and know that I will never be reading that book. I agree with Hippo Chick, if it doesn't grab my interest after a certain amount of pages, I give it up and move onto something I enjoy. When I do recreational reading, I like to be entertained, not bored. If I want to be bored, I will go wash dishes. hehehe

  8. I didn't like it either. I did wonder after reading some reviews if I had picked up the wrong book.

  9. Hi Winifred - thanks for letting me know you had posted the review - I looked at goodreads - a bit like Library Thing that I use. I agree that it was a difficult book but I forgave him a lot because I loved his writing style and he really brings the place and characters alive. but it was relentlessly depressing. Sometimes life's too short and I don't waste time on books I don't like . I've given up on books like DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little after I bought it when it won the Booker - and I hated Ann Enright's misery-lit that won the booker too - The Gathering I think it was - though she wrote a nice short story collection later. So yes, try the books of Marina Lewycka if you want a good story with a sense of humour but an edge to it - Two Caravans, We are all made of Glue and A short history of tractors in Ukrainian - witty and edgy with a depth to them without preaching.
    All the best, Catherine.


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