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Carpenter's Gothic Hardcover – Jul 1985

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Viking Pr (July 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670697931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670697939
  • Product Dimensions: 50.8 x 50.8 x 50.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,324,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Dec 2011
Format: Paperback
What a bleak world `Carpenter's Gothic' depicts: a world of chicanery, cynicism and opportunism - a world largely absent of compassion and love. And what a challenge it was, to stay with the pace of the novel because it certainly didn't allow me to develop and impose my own reading pace.

The novel describes a comparatively brief period in the life of Elizabeth `Liz' Booth, during a period in which she and her husband Paul rent a house from a mysterious man named McCandless. This house, built in the architectural style known as `Carpenter's Gothic', is situated in the Hudson River Valley. It is a house that looks impressive from a distance but is really `a patchwork of conceits, borrowing and deceptions': a fitting setting for the story that is about to unfold.

`Feel like I'm in here talking to myself.'

The story unfolds in a form of dialogue which is sometimes a set of intersecting monologues; unattributed speech in which the characters (usually Liz and Paul) interrupt each other and in turn are interrupted by the daily intrusions of life - primarily the telephone and delivery of mail. It's up to the reader to interpret what is said, to choose from a range of alternate possible meanings. In the meantime, as the novel progresses, different elements of the plot are revealed making it necessary (at least for me) to revisit some earlier interpretations and conclusions.
Paul is obsessed with various schemes, none of which appear to have any real societal benefit and the juggling of which render him completely self-absorbed and Liz completely isolated. The later presence of McCandless, and appearances by Liz's brother Billy, afford the reader a different view of Liz's life.

My conclusions?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By giveitsomestick on 29 Aug 2008
Format: Paperback
I'd never heard of this book before, and picked it up in a second-had bookshop. It focuses on the life of a housewife, Liz, and her oppressive marriage to an army veteran; a pathological liar who is constantly pursuing complex and outlandish schemes for moneymaking. The story is rendered exclusively through the speech of its characters, which gives a heightened sense of their alienation and conceals their inner thoughts.

I found this to be a really original and well-worked novel, though it's tough going at times, and it's often very difficult to decipher what's happening. So it's probably not to everyone's tastes, but with a bit of perseverance you'll almost certainly find it very rewarding.
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Format: Paperback
William Gaddis's most renowned book is arguably The Recognitions which was published 1n 1955. That was followed twenty years later by his second novel JR Both of these book are huge volumes being 956 and 726 pages respectively, and I must admit look rather challenging. However, I had always wanted to try Gaddis if only to challenge myself. I found Carpenter's Gothic (his third novel) in a remainder bookstore, and at only 262 pages felt it might be a good way to sample the author's style.
The main characters are Elizabeth Booth and her husband Paul who have rented a house from an enigmatic ex-CIA man names McCandless. Paul works as a freelance media consultant for the Reverend Ude, and is hoping to capitalise financially on the accidental drowning of a child by portraying the incident as some sort of miracle. In fact trying to gain financially appears to be Paul's raison detre.
The novel is predominantly composed from the dialogue of the main characters. I suppose the best way of describing reading this novel is to imagine that you are eavesdropping on the conversation between all the different characters while never seeing them. The same applies to any outside stimulus, that it added as the author thinks necessary.
I enjoyed reading Carpenter's Gothic, but feel that some readers may find Gaddis's style somewhat restricted and monotonous. Having said that if you feel interested in exploring an alternative form of stream of consciousness writing, than say Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus et al, then this could be an author to experiment with.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By P. A. Jourdan on 30 May 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just finished William Gaddis's third novel, Carpenter's Gothic. I'd been meaning to read it and, knowing I'd be out at sea for a few days, figured now was the time.

The problem is that with a Gaddis novel, now is never really the time. His books are all-consuming and time-consuming at the same time; you need to focus, but the focus must also be sustained. I think of his novels as the sort to force the cultivation of focus, not just its exercise: you go into them expecting to struggle, but in fact the struggle isn't even the hardest bit. What's hardest is learning to struggle, figuring out what kind of attention you need to be paying, and for how long each moment of effort will go on.

Carpenter's Gothic is -- if you exclude Agape Agape, which I would not call a novel in any significant sense -- Gaddis's shortest novel, and I read it relatively quickly. But then, I set myself high standards when I was reading The Recognitions: six months of nothing but reading that, more than once, carefully, adoringly. JR took about a month.

Everything in Carpenter's Gothic happens in a single house built in the style suggested by the title: wooden, derivative, or, in the words of a central character, "a patchwork of conceits, borrowings, deceptions, the inside's a hodgepodge of good intentions like one last ridiculous effort at something worth doing even on this small a scale..." What I quoted is a passage I've seen a few times in Gaddis criticism, and having read the novel I understand its importance. This novel is bursting with characters trying to make do with what is there, and often doing it badly, miserably.

The back cover copy on my edition calls this a "tempestuous comic novel" -- if this is a comic novel, I've lost my funnies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The most breathless novelist of all time? 26 May 2000
By E. Hawkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gaddis must give Thomas Bernhard a run for his money. While Bernhard specialises in the ranting monologue -- and denies the reader the breathing space of a single paragraph-break -- Gaddis plunges us into a cacophony of competing voices. Passages of description and narration are few and far between, and even when we get them, they're written telegraphically, almost as a stream-of-consciousness, with only the most minimal punctuation. I'm an advocate of lucidity in prose as a rule, but Gaddis's energy does away with the distinctions between lucidity and obscurity -- after a single page of this novel, you know you're in the hands of a master, one of the greatest writers of dialogue the novel has known. (He makes David Mamet seem quiescent by comparison.) The material of the novel seems terribly unpromising. It's set almost entirely in one house (full of false walls and chimneys unconnected to fireplaces -- a sure sign that everything is not as it seems) and the protagonist, Liz, is a nervous wreck. None of the characters really communicate with one another -- or at least not while they're talking. The plot is inordiantely complex, and we're often given information that doesn't make sense at the time. And Liz is the only person who really manages to elicit any sympathy from the reader. But it's still a thrilling read, because Gaddis stokes the rhetorical fires unceasingly and with unflagging wit. A good starting point for his three larger novels.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
sinister masterpiece 13 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gathering storm..Unfolds like a stage play on the floor boards of one rented house....any reader who gives this book a chance will be borne along ever faster and further by the magnificent, ranting dialogue which seems to reach from these rented rooms into every nefarious corner of American mischief; a sinister bible act of the Pat Robertson ilk with an African ministry(the entire rape of Africa is rendered in one amazing four or five page salvo), the unscrupulous wife-bullying moron who decides to act as his P.T.Barnum, and a host of other characters who fall into those two GADDIS categories(not mutually exclusive) of grotesque and disposessed. What a book!Gives evil many faces."As funny as hell"
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Challenging, but well worth it... 16 Feb 2002
By Steven Q. Dump - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having heard so much praise for Gaddis' work and having read excerpts from all four of his novels, I decided to give "Carpenter's Gothic" a try. I must say that I was not at all surprised to find that everything I've heard about Gaddis' virtuoso prose and dialogue is absolutely true. The man was an absolutely brilliant writer. His dialogue is the best I've ever read. I also can see why he never really became popular: he's not the easiest writer to read. A book like this has to be read at least two times in order for the reader to catch up on a lot of what is going on. Not that this would be much of a chore. In fact, I think that anyone who has read this book would look forward to a second go-round!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A nice book 10 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Carpenter's Gothic is a good book--the harshest criticism ever written on American crudity: illiterate religious zealots, megacorporations and good consumers, the mass media, and the density of the average American mind. Gaddis' dialogue--and _CG_ is nearly all dialogue--crystallizes the idiocy and the vague terror in the hearts of his messed-up characters. It's always spot-on in its parody of stupidity and incoherence (I am a college student, and I constantly hear echoes of _CG_ when other people, or I, talk). However, there are no interior lives of the Proustian or Joycean sort--all is speech, documents, objects. Gaddis writes nothing of what his characters think. While the external emphasis is completely appropriate for late 20th century America, if you're looking for meaningful inner lives, skip _CG_ and go to Gaddis' first book, _The Recognitions_, or jaunt to Joyce. Better yet, go out and make some effort to raise yourself above the intellectual level of the characters in _Carpenter's Gothic_. The spirit of Gaddis might give thanks for that.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Talk, talk, it's all talk 17 July 2006
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Often this is considered the least of Gaddis' novels, the most obvious reason being that it's the shortest, although that isn't the only reason. Still, in his longer novels Gaddis was always able to work his themes to a fever pitch and stretch them out, playing with dialogue and tone over the course of hundreds of pages, giving you in essence a grand symphony. A depressing symphony, also, mind you, dotted with sparks of black humor but it made each book a rather meaty read. Here he attempts to do all that in like a tenth of the space and while that gives the novel a breakneck pace that isn't really matched by anything else he's ever done (Agape, Agape, maybe, but I'll let you know when I get there), things start off quickly and keep moving. Even this is an illusion, while The Recognitions was a tad ponderous at times and was meant to be read slowly, JR comes across as a mad flurry of action, due to all the competing voices charging head-on in cacophony. Here everything just feels compressed, the characters trapped in a bottle, the setting never really leaving the house that gives the novel its name. With its limited setting and fewer characters, it sometimes can feel like JR-lite but the tone is remarkably different. As I mentioned, there are hints of Gaddis' rather dark view of things but most of the time it was leavened by humor or at least some kind of compassion. In this story, you have none of that. The two main characters, Paul and Elizabeth, are taking care of a house owned by a different man, while Paul works with a Reverend and also seems to be suing a bunch of people due to some kind of airplane crash, while Elizabeth goes to different doctors somehow aligned with the case and generally frets about. Which sets up the main problem with the novel, the two characters are mostly unlikable, the novel begins with Paul berating Elizabeth nonstop while asking her to do stuff for him and it really doesn't relent, just about every scene of them together follows that pattern and it does get rather tedious after a while. Elizabeth isn't much better on her own, while Paul's foulmouthed rants have an amusing component to them, Elizabeth just tends to flutter and frit about and not saying anything of real import, although she does gain something resembling a spine toward the end. Paul's schemes are what drive the narrative but it is hard to figure out what the general thrust is underneath all the ranting, in fact the copy on the inner jacket will tell you more about the plot than the story really does and it's not unheard of for a reader to feel simply snowballed under the mountains of dialogue. Fortunately, Gaddis does dialogue well. Really, really well. Real people may not talk like that but he captures the rhythms close enough and the back and forth chatter is like nothing else is literature. The lack of punctuation marks only immerses the dialogue further into the prose, making it all a sort of weird background noise . . . though it can get confusing because he writes more actual prose here than in JR, where the non-dialogue narrative almost seemed like an afterthought. Although the constant talking remains key, the rich language that was in the Recognitions starts to poke through here and there. But it's the chatter that shines, especially toward the latter portion of the book where all the conflicts start to come to a head. When the owner of the house, McCandless shows up and appears to be more connected to matters than he lets on, things start to pick up and the many page conversation between him and Lester where they alternately threaten and manipulate and dance around each other with nothing but words is probably the best thing in the novel and I was sincerely sorry when it ended, so marvelously was it paced. Otherwise, things progress merrily, it will probably take several readings to figure out what is going on but it reads easily enough, even if the plot seems a bit sketchy at times. While Gaddis' technique is as sure as usual, he doesn't seem to have as much of a handle on his themes, ranting about basically everything without much focus. That can be frustrating at times, I'll agree. Still, the book is much more than Gaddis-lite, which is putting things too simply. His command of his technique is as astounding as ever and it's a good a place to introduce yourself to his work as any (Frolic might better, Recognitions is not for the faint of heart due to its length and JR is actually rather atypical), even if you shouldn't stop there. And hey, it even has chapters, of a sort. Sell-out! Just kidding! Difficult, but I think worth the effort involved.
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