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The Confessions of Max Tivoli [Paperback]

Andrew Sean Greer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 10.99
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Book Description

1 July 2004

We are each the love of someone's life . . .

So begins The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a heartbreaking love story with a narrator like no other. Sitting in a sandbox, Max Tivoli is writing the story of his life. He is nearly seventy years old, but he looks as if he is only seven - for Max is ageing backwards.

The tragedy of Max's life is that he falls in love when he is seventeen with Alice, a girl his own age - but to her he looks like a middle-aged man, and when he makes advances, she is repulsed. But when he is thirty-five, he actually looks his age, so he has a second chance at love - but tragedy befalls this star-crossed couple and desperate measures are required.

Set in San Francisco during the turbulent years at the turn of the twentieth century, this is a haunting tale of love lost, then found - in ways that are least expected.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Jacketed Paperback edition (1 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571220215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571220212
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,839,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Out of the womb in 1871, Max Tivoli looked to all the world like a tiny 70-year-old man. But inside the aged body was an infant. Victim of a rare disease, Max grows physically younger as his mind matures. In Andrew Sean Greer's finely crafted novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Max narrates his life story from the vantage point of his late fifties, though his body is that of a 12-year-old boy. He has known since a young age that he is destined to die at 70, and he wears a golden "1941" as a constant reminder of the year he will finally perish in an infant form. His mother, a Carolina belle concerned over her son's troubling appearance, curses Max with "The Rule": "Be what they think you are". Max fails to keep this Rule only a handful of times in his life, but it is the burden of living by it that wounds him and slowly alienates him from the people he loves.

Over Max's narration of the preceding decades of his life, he offers outsider's snapshots of San Francisco and all of America across the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout, Greer uses the literary device of reverse aging to interrogate the evolution of social conventions, the finitude of a human life and the decay of memory. Max wants love. But his curse destines him to deception. He loses his wife, Alice, changes his name and remains hidden from his own son to keep his true identity secret. Only his lifelong friend, Hughie, stands by Max and can see the person inside the anachronistic body. Like the best science fiction and myth, the novel uses its central conceit to reveal human prejudice and explode all assumptions of normalcy to profound effect.

Love is a destructive force in The Confessions of Max Tivoli. But Greer recognises that in the failure of love is also hope. He artfully captures Max's fragile world with a delicacy that never crosses into sentimentality but also avoids the monumental scale of tragedy. As Max says near the end of the novel, "It is a brave and stupid thing, a beautiful thing to waste ones life for love." A journey with Max, while brave and beautiful, is hardly a waste. --Patrick O'Kelley, --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'A hugely ambitious and extraordinarily beautiful book . . . there will be few, if any, better novels published this year.' -- The List

'The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a brilliant story about the simplest of brief encounters, the encounter with life.' -- The Times

'This is a unique work that despite its unbelievable premise makes good in every way imaginable.' -- The Bookseller

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Be what they think you are." 12 Feb 2004
By A Customer
Once in a while a novel comes along where all the different facets come together to produce a piece of work that is so perfect, so literary, so imaginative and just so spell-binding in tone and quality. The Confessions of Max Tivoli is indeed one of these novels. It is a beautiful and daring feat of the imagination that reveals the world through the eyes of a "mooncalf, a changeling; a thing so out of joint with the human race." Max, who ages backwards from birth leads a life that manages to question the very nature of time, appearance, reality and the nature if love itself.
At the center of this heart-rending love story is Max who has the physical appearance of an old, dying creature. He bursts into the world "as if from the other end of life" and the days since are of "physical reversion" shrinking into the "hairless, harmless boy" who scrawls his pale "confession" has he approaches death as a young child. For Max everything is reversed – he's an adult when he is a child, and a boy when he is an old man. Alice Levy is the subject of Max's love and undying devotion. He falls in love with her when she is a young neighbour girl, and after a mistaken romantic encounter with Alice's Mother he loses touch with her. Each successive time he finds his Alice, she does not recognize him and towards the end of the story she gives him another chance at love under extremely unorthodox conditions. And as the story progresses Max's secrets are revealed to the reader in exceptionally clever and exciting ways.
Greer is in complete and utter control of his narrative.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Be what they think you are" 1 July 2005
Any novel that starts with a man in his fifties in the body of a child and with this character mentioning that he will tell us a tragic story involving love and murder, will grab the readers attention. And this is what Greer does in the first couple of pages of this book. But after that he shows his ability to keep us engaged throughout the story, with a combination of an imaginative plot and a superb talent for transmitting the feelings of the main character without missing a beat in the story's pace.
There is no great availability of literary fiction in a fantastic setting, so this novel is a clear break from the ordinary. It all revolves around the narrator, Max Tivoli, who was born with the appearance of a seventy-year old man and is "doomed" to have his body rejuvenate while his mind grows old. The sum of the two ages will always add up to seventy, so he knows that by the year 1941 he will disappear. This special situation forces Max to hide his true self from the rest of the people and he tries to stick by his mother's advice: "Be what they think you are". Only a few times in his life he actually ventures to reveal his reality; probably the most important one is when he is a kid in an old man's body and meets Hughie, a child that will become his best friend for life and will share his experiences, regrets and pain, in the years to come.
And then there is Alice, a girl / woman that will cross Max's path three times in his life at different points and who is the love of his life. It is impressive to see how each of this encounters differ from one another, since even though both characters have the same age, Max's physical appearance suggests otherwise. This dichotomy in Max's life creates complex situations that help us realize what this man has to go through.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed 28 Mar 2008
I am 3/4 of my way through this book and to be honest I have been quite disappointed. The premise excited me and I couldn't wait to start it.The book is an alright read and well written but for me however it is merely a pale imitation of Nabakov's style and even the content of his work. I can pick phrases from the book that are merely reworkings of Nabakov's literary gems in Lolita. Whilst one might conclude that this is Greer paying homage to Nabakov's masterpiece it just doesn't sit well with me.
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