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Last Things Paperback – 22 May 2000

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Paperback, 22 May 2000
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (22 May 2000)
  • ISBN-10: 0747551472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747551478
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,939,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The charisma and damage of madness gives a desperate, lyrical glamour to Jenny Offill's debut novel Last Things. Eight-year-old Grace Davitt's mother Anna is an ornithologist with a passion for knowledge. Not the sort that comes in dry and dusty lists in factual books but the intense matters of life and death with all their beauty and harshness.

Anna's imagination is inspiring, defiantly off-kilter. She paints the spare room black and draws upon it the cosmic calendar--the history of the world recreated with glow-in-the-dark stars. She has a birthday party for the earth--"it was 4.6 billion years old, so no candles, she said"--and employs a boy genius who has a dream "that one day entire cities might be illuminated by mould" to baby-sit.

Everything goes awry on a road trip to New Orleans "where there is always a parade" and where money and food and sleep are in short supply. There is the wistful hope that "someday we would drive our sweet-smelling car home, saying, We always thought of you. You never for a moment left our hearts". They do arrive home but soon after Anna fills her coat pockets with stones and drives into the lake.

Jenny Offill tells the story with a melancholy elegance; evolution, extinction and madness sparkle like stars in this wise and wonderful tale of knowledge and loss. --Eithne Farry --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A beautiful debut novel, a gently funny tragedy about childhood and madness . . . pokes at the boundaries between reason and imagination." --Newsday "Jenny Offill . . . has created a fantastical family, at times loving and sweet, sorrowful and dangerous. The prose, though told through the eyes of Grace, is sparse, elegant, and inviting." --The Boston Globe "Offill's deceptively simple prose, her exquisite sense of metaphor and her ear for humor capture the subtle perceptions of this wise child so that we feel to the bone her burgeoning awareness."--Chicago Tribune "[A] gem of a first novel." --Los Angeles Times Book Review "Offill's dialogue and quirky details are truly delightful."--Baltimore Sun --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this shortly after completing the same author's Department of Speculation - which may have been an error.

I enjoyed very much the first half of the book, which focusses on the lived experience of a child of 7/8 years old, learning about the world from her mother and father - and this is a combination of myth, perception and scientific understanding, as she also plays with cousins and friends. The writing is very exact, and the writing and the world are both full of imagination.

As the themes start to grow darker in the second half of the book, I found it slightly less convincing and significantly less engaging - though it did serve to remind me very forcibly just how much children live in the power of their parents' and their parents' wellbeing.

I found the conclusion enigmatic - that may be me, however, rather than some fault of the author or the writing.

So: I'd recommend the recent novel more strongly, despite the attractions this one holds in its first part...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
this is one fantastic book. but be careful as when you begin to agree with things which are said, remind yourself you are 5% sane... don't loose that!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mrs R Cofie on 10 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book I have bought for the second time, having loaned the original one I had and then forgotten to whom. It is a unique and moving piece of writing and impossible to forget. The truth of the situation is revealed so subtley and without judgement. I will not give it away. Read the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 0 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Larry L. Looney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The reader gets a definite sense of the narrator's age in Jenny Offill's debut novel, LAST THINGS. She views everything she relates to us openly and unflinchingly, as a child would do -- and the things she doesn't completely understand are naturally colored with the myths and stories told to her by her increasingly deranged mother, combined with extrapolations produced by her own imagination.
Grace's parents are incredibly mismatched. Her father is a complete realist, grounded in science and fact. He works as a teacher in the small Vermont town in which they live, until his objections to a prayer circle held within earshot of his office draw the disfavor of the administration. At one point, we are told that he proposed to her mother with the words 'You're the only woman I've met that will never bore me'. That's certainly proven to be true. Her mother -- who is an ornithologist working at a nearby raptor center -- is given to spouting native myths and beliefs from the far corners of the earth, sometimes obviously inventing stories on the spot to validate her increasingly odd actions. She sometimes speaks and writes in a language invented for her by her father, and attempts to teach it to Grace. When her pronouncements and beliefs begin to seep into her daughter's behavior at school, she vows to home-school young Grace, and the girl is pulled further into her mother's fantasy world.
Children usually remember events clearly but in a spotty way -- when speaking of memories, they tend to bounce from one to the next, not concerned (as an adult narrator might be) with beginnings and endings, with smoothing out the rough edges of memory. They remember the parts that have the greatest emotional effect on them, either directly or obliquely. Offill has reproduced this tendency by giving her young storyteller an accurate voice -- it's not a stretch for us to imagine that we're listening to the story through Grace's own words. That being said, the writing is very polished and effective -- as the book spirals through scene after scene to its climax, the effect is very much like a wild dream that comes with the fever of an illness. It's a powerful current that draws the reader in, making the book difficult to put down.
It's an interesting ride -- but there's an aching sadness left at the thought of what the shenanigans of Grace's parents are doing to her, to what sort of long-term effects they might have on the impressionable psyche of an 8-year-old girl. It makes me wonder if the two of them gave any thought to how they would raise a child once they had one. Her mother is hopeless, and her father, although he's a bit more grounded in reality, seems completely clueless in relating to his daughter. I can't imagine her emerging from this ordeal without having a fairly skewed view of the world.
It's an odd little book -- but very skillfully written, interesting and entertaining. Sometimes it's pretty scary to look as an adult through the eyes of a child -- it makes for a compelling read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
In a Child's Voice 16 May 2000
By danny grosso - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A tale of extrordinary people and circumstance, Jenny Offill's greatest feat is reaching back; somehow finding the unspoiled voice of childhood. Offill puts that voice to paper with great dexterity and wonder. Authors often assume different voices for their works. Offill here accepts the clumsy task of doing so with a child's parlance. Without unclouding the child's future,(a task that ruins so many similar works), Offill creates a moving story of a very gifted little girl, Grace, whose future is taxed by her mother's progressive mental illness. The beauty of the work is that, precocious as she unmistakably is, Grace does not see her own life, even her own mother, as beyond normalcy. The novel, in a sense claustrophobic is are many childrens' worlds, is also full of the innocent blue vistas that are a part of a child's ready euphoria. The juxtaposition of these two natures in childhood, and as embodied in Grace, are what makes this novel different and special. Grace has not yet been taught to honor the imaginary line between sanity and mental illness. Her resultant, innocent fealty to her sick mother is the endearing legacay of this story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A remarkably fluid, talented, and arresting debut. 6 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
My girlfriend and I have spent the past week reading this book aloud to each other; most books don't stand up to that kind of abuse. But Offill's sentences are so carefully, artlessly constructed, that they float off the page, and the story's momentum carried us forward into many a sleepless spring night. The protagonist, an eight year old girl who describes the steady deterioration of her mother's sanity and family structure, has a clarity of tone that anchors the book's wonderful off kilterness in a solid, utterly believable foundation. Events unfold so unpredictably, but with such authority and control on Offill's part -- in the past, we'd given ourselves over to a book only to feel betrayed at the end. With Last Things, we felt rewarded, and lucky. This is a book to treasure and tell friends about.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Charming and Magical 24 Jan. 2000
By C. Mummert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book immensely. I think the narrative structure device using the history of the universe in relation to the period of 365 days is incredibly effective. The characters are a little shaky on the descriptive end, however I'm not certain that this isn't intentional in order to magnify the "magical realist" aspect of the narrative. In general, I found the book haunting and resonant in many ways. I look forward to reading the next novel Ms. Offill.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Sweet and sad, a lovely tale... 11 Oct. 2001
By R. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Another bittersweet book about a child in unusual circumstances. Grace is an eight-year-old girl whose mother, Anna is both a dream (for Grace) and a nightmare (for Anna herself). The mother and the father, Robert seem an interesting pair, she creative, bold, irrational and he patient, mainstream and rational. This is the tale of Anna who eventually goes mad, of Grace who doesn't understand that her mother is out of the norm, and Robert who loves but doesn't understand his wife and who eventually must be the stabilizing force for his daughter. The story is a sweet one as Grace is introduced to wild scientific, anthropological, linguistic, and mysterious theories by her mother (and her geeky teenaged babysitter). In fact, much of what Anna teaches Grace is that science can explain one side of an argument as often as it can explain the other side. I loved the various scientific puzzles, the imaginary language that Anna makes up for them, and the tales of hyena-men, gazelle-boys, and living dinosaurs. What is sad about it all is that as Anna's behavior becomes more manic and unstable, it all seems reasonable to Grace (who would not know better) who is blindly loyal to her mother. The family begins to dissolve when Grace's father begins to focus too intensely on his science (to the neglect of the family) and Anna takes Grace on a road-trip. The fact that this novel is written in Grace's voice is beautiful and is a hard feat that the author accomplishes admirably. The fact that the author manages to weave in themes of (animal) extinction, mental collapse, and the disintegration of a family is brilliant. It was so refreshing to read a book involving a child that was truly loving (even though it involved troubled souls, they clearly loved their little girl) and did not involve any hostility.
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