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Metropolis [Paperback]

Elizabeth Gaffney
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 Feb 2006
On a freezing night in the middle of a New York winter, a young immigrant is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation. Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage to America, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city’s toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and beautiful woman. Buffeted by the forces of fate, hate, luck, and passion, our hero struggles to build a life–and just to stay alive–on an epic journey that is at once unique and poignantly emblematic of the American experience.

Product details

  • Paperback: 474 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (14 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970852
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,923,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"* 'Gaffney has engineered a thrilling Brooklyn Bridge of a novel, at once old-fashioned and utterly modern, grand and charming, elegant and massive, imposing and delightful, carrying us in inimitable style across the rich, rank waters of New York City's history.' Michael Chabon * A wonderful recreation of the heady world into which so many Irish emigrants arrived to build new lives for themselves 150 years ago.' Irish Independent * '[An] engrossing tale of crime and romance...[a] splendidly bleak portrayal of the mid-Victorian city's underbelly' Guardian * 'A sprawling epic of a novel... this good old fashioned ripping yarn told with no little zest.' Glasgow Herald" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A hugely entertaining first novel, set in the New York underworld of the 1860s, in the tradition of Caleb Carr's The Alienist and The Gangs of New York.'Gaffney has engineered a thrilling Brooklyn Bridge of a novel, at once old-fashioned and utterly modern, grand and charming, elegant and massive, imposing and delightful, carrying us in inimitable style across the rich, rank waters of New York City's history.' Michael Chabon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Crooks Tour of the maximum city 20 Nov 2007
Ever wish you could have lived in a simpler time? Well this very entertaining first novel might cause you to scratch one possible destination from your list.

The story revolves around a newly arrived immigrant in late 19th century New York. We follow him as he tries to make a life for himself in the land of new beginnings. Almost from his arrival he is seen as a useful stooge by a number of the city's different gang factions & spends the majority of the book under their influence or trying to escape from it. On his journey he moves from beneath the city streets to the heights of the one of the greatest architectural marvels of the day. This allows us to experience the sights & sounds of a unique city in a way that's still only really possible in historical fiction.

Elizabeth Gaffney has a strong, stylish voice which is in keeping with the book's setting & period.

The engaging & original characters coupled with the unflagging story make for a very enjoyable novel & there's a real sense of her characters having a chance to shape their destinies through sheer force of will, if they can just manage to survive long enough.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good 2 Mar 2013
By j tune
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This works very well as a quick and easy read and I would recommend it for the price to anyone
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sprawl 17 Mar 2005
By Newton Munnow - Published on
There is much to be admired in the 450 pages of Metropolis, a story of post Civil War New York. Unfortunately, the admirable would have fitted into 200 odd pages, leaving the reader wading through an extra half a book. Gaffney's done her research. Unlike Kevin Baker's hyperkinetic Dreamland, Gaffney does a fine job sorting 19th Century New York myths from reality. If only she'd been harder on herself. Too often you'll find a moment of genuine drama slowed to an unbearable pace. For instance, Gaffney reckons the middle of a life-threatening fire is a good time for a quick literary tour of Barnum's circus. Instead of reading on, this reader thought the fire was a fine place to put the book down for the night. In other words, Gaffney doesn't know when to let the story flow and when to occasionally indulge herself. It makes the book seem heavier than it should be, unravelling all the months of research that must have gone into it. Yet it's hard to forgive an author who strives so hard for historical realism and then punctures her own balloon with anachronisms. Would a stable hand really think that he 'identified' with a horse 150 years ago? Whichever editor let this book slip out should have their fingers rapped. Another few months of work might have produced something memorable, but you get the feeling that a book this heavy can only sink like a stone.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, fluid novel of old NY 30 Mar 2006
By D. C. Palter - Published on
In its essence, Metropolis is a love story between a German immigrant in NYC in the late 1800's and the teenage wife of the Irish gang leader.

Though earnest, honest, and hard-working, Harris is on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. The Irish gang takes him to use for their own nefarious purposes, and assigns Beatrice the job of turning him into a credible Irishman to avoid the police and other gangs.

The story is minutely researched, and brings in real people from the era, including the main character himself, mentioned in David McCullough's "The Great Bridge" as a worker who fell off the Brooklyn Bridge during construction and lived. The historical detail is used well, adding a strong sense of an almost magical place of heroic bridges overhead, secret sewer tunnels below, an era of vicious but honorable gangs counterbalancing the venality of the police and municipal adminstration. But Gaffeny never gets bogged down in these details, using them only to complement the intertwined stories of Harris and Beatrice.

The novel reminded me of "A Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin, about a thief and set during the same period, and obviously pulls extensive detail from "The Gangs of NY."

Overall, very enjoyable to read and highly recommended.
41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Aptly "Necropolis" 21 Mar 2005
By Gary Griffiths - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While slogging through some 450 pages of "Metropolis", the reader may wonder exactly what Elizabeth Gaffney is trying to convey in this plodding saga of post-Civil War New York City. At its core, it is the tale of a young German immigrant on the lam after being framed in the arson of P.T. Barnum's American Museum. He soon finds himself in the throws of the "Whyos", a secret Irish gang of New York's infamous Five Points, through which he finds work first on a road crew, later as a sewer man of New York's famed subterranean maze, and finally as a member of the construction crew building the Brooklyn Bridge. Such ambitious fare certainly holds much promise for the historical novel fan, but Gaffney clutters the plot and the history with a ham handed dose of feminism and related social topics. To make matters worse, the utopian Whyos who, we are to believe, have maintained their stealth and secrecy by communicating through a complex language of song. While Gaffney portrays the Whyos as tough and ruthless, these ludicrous singing bandits seem closer to "The West Side Story" than to "The Gangs of New York." Our young German hero - let's call him Frank Harris - the last of his several aliases - falls in love with the redoubtable Beatrice: pickpocket, whore, sometime murderer, and mol of the Whyos boss. But in Gaffney's New York, girls like Beatrice are the salt of society, the true brains and fabric of both legal and illegal New York, held back only by men and the puritanical Victorian social mores of the day.

The book could have survived all of this, were it not for Gaffney's total lack of atmosphere, suspense, or pace in the story. Fires, explosions, murders, are conveyed with the drama of a Brooklyn Bridge machinery technical manual, and while despite endless pages describing the thoughts and feeling of Frank and Beatrice, they stir as much inspiration as a trip with Gaffney through New York's sewers.

From the breathless praise lavished by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others, "Metropolis" was a novel I was really looking forward to devouring. It is unfortunate that this book was so well received critically, but I suspect the reviewers were more enthralled with Gaffney's oh-so politically correct social commentary than in any true literary or entertainment talent. Boring, disjointed, and unfocused, in the final analysis "Metropolis" is a good book to leave on the trolley.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative 30 Dec 2007
By Hilton Keith - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I like the notion of violent gangsters chosen for their vocal pitch. I like the idea of the sewermen in the municipal bath house, and their fear of the "ghost", the very human way they justify its existence even though the truth is painfully self-evident. I like the way the plot hovers just above mystical and supernatural. I like the juxtaposition of song versus gore, bridge versus sewer, poverty versus wealth (and so on- it is a book of extremes). Does it have to be absolutely plausible to be a fascinating story? For my money, this "guy gets girl" saga is stronger for its whimsical elements. Some concepts in the book will make me pay more attention, now, to the sounds in the city. Is that really a screeching cat? Or could it be a pomaded, red-lipped, axe-blade-booted killer communicating with his lackeys?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skeletal, Seething 6 Oct 2009
By Seth Faison - Published on
After about 50 pages, I felt drawn in. After 90, I was fully hooked. I liked the tactile portrayal of old New York, its skeletal structure and pungent smells. When the book's hero begins navigating the secret tunnels of the sewer system, the details feel just right and the story seems to gain narrative power. The book's opening is unsteady, as if to mirror the disorientation of a fresh immigrant like our main protagonist. He is repeatedly misjudged, misled, and mistaken. He keeps changing his own name. Despair looms, and almost snuffs out luck and timing. Yet the story has a sure traction, and I felt I had to know what was going to happen next.

I might have guessed from the book's cover that our hero would graduate to a job building the Brooklyn Bridge, with its architectural majesty and construction nightmares, a striking symbol of the striving New Yorkers in the Tweed-and-gang era. Gaffney evidently loves the bridge, and plays with it as a fitting counterpoint to the sprawling sewers. She's a fine writer. I felt more than willing to roll with her jolty chronological sidesteps. They make her story feel somewhat old-fashioned and mildly idiosyncratic at the same time. And she creates lots of appealing, intriguing characters. My own favorites were Meg Dolan, Queen Mother of the stealthy gang that is the muscle of this story, and Luther Undertoe, the wayward soul and antichrist. All the book's characters battle serious physical challenges of daily life in the 1870s. Their emotional paths move in multifarious directions for unknowable reasons. They are rendered human, and we are watchers. Grateful ones.
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