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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