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Pharmakon Paperback – 2 Feb 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Export ed edition (2 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074759810X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747598107
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,546,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'An ambitious and memorable novel' Jay McInerney 'In Pharmakon Dirk Wittenborn has given us a fascinating portrait of a family living on the edge in the barely post-medieval age of 1950s psychopharmacology. Both victims and perpetrators, poineers and innocents, the saga of the Friedrichs will stay with you long after the book has been read' Richard Price 'An old-fashioned novel about a modern subject surprising - sometimes shocking don't be surprised if you find yourself moved to tears' Bret Easton Ellis 'What's best about Pharmakon is Mr Wittenborn's colorful, affectionate evocation of a complex family story A smart, eccentric coming-of-age story about an entire culture's maturation process, not just one about the workings of a single family. And Mr. Wittenborn is able to channel a lifetime's worth of psychiatric symptoms into one improbably universal story' New York Times

About the Author

Dirk Wittenborn is a screenwriter who lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John Fraser on 8 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
I read Wittenborn's last novel, Fierce People, some years back and loved it: a no-holds-bared pacy version of The Great American Novel, with a rich narrative that stayed (just about) this side of melodrama, I'm pretty sure I read it in one sitting. I'd begun to wonder what had happened to him (it was about six years ago now) and Pharmakon gives us the answers.

If John Irving had a bit more edge and slightly less in the way of sentimentality, he might have written Pharmakon. Much like Fierce People it has a brilliantly pageturning plot (which I discovered in a piece in yesterday's Times is based, unfeasibly, on the author's life) but it's a much more grown up, emotionally considered piece of writing. It's a little like Jay McInerney, but with more likeable characters; a little like Brett Easton Ellis, but without the snarling cynicism. A little Tom Wolff, perhaps, but more generous-spirited and funnier. Wittenborn gives us an amazing portrait of family life (albeit a pretty dysfunctional family) in 1950 America and then takes the protagonist, Zach, on a compelling journey as he slides inextricably into drug addiction and personal crisis. On the way we meet some wonderful characters, not least Caspar, the sociopathic guinea pig who tries to kill Zach's family. There's a wonderful sense of redemption at the end of the novel, but it never feels forced or pat.

I'd have to say, this is one of the best books I've read in a good few years! For anyone who's a fan of modern American literature and great storytelling, it's a must.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this a reasonably enjoyable but strange and frustrating book. I could never fully engage with it. There are some very good things in it, but it felt bloated and meandering, like it needs to be ripped apart and put back together in a tighter, more focused way. And although frustrated by it, I kept reading in the hope that the ending would pull everything together and give the book a focus and a resonance that made the journey worthwhile, but, alas, the ending was a disappointment to me and left me feeling unsatisfied.

There are things I enjoyed about it though: the first part of the novel, about Dr Friedrich & Dr Winton's research into a new drug was interesting; I enjoyed the characters & the squabbling of the Friedrichs' children, which was entertaining and funny; the way Caspar turned on Friedrich added drama and suspense; and, of course, I enjoyed the parrots. But ultimately this book was just too bloated and unfocused for me, and I never really properly connected with it or felt fully invested in the story or the characters. It was ok, but not really for me.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a frustrating novel because it feels like it should be better than it is.

At least part of the problem is that Wittenborn doesn't seem to have decided what sort of book he's writing before he started. Is it a plot-based narrative (the opening section about the drug trial and its consequences)? Or a bildungsroman (about who - Friedrich, or maybe his son Zach)? Or a theme-led reflection on the influence of drugs, legal and illegal, on American society in the latter half of the Twentieth Century?

He has a go at all of these, but doesn't follow any of them through. What you end up with is a disappointing muddle. It gives the novel a very stop-start quality and stunts the development of the various characters, plot lines and ideas he introduces. Which is a shame because some of them seem like they could have been interesting.
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By uster on 12 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The plot sounded good, and the first 40 minutes (the sample which can be downloaded for free with kindle) was promising so I bought it. I was massively disappointed though and I wouldn't recommend this book at all. The narrative jumped from one person to another, whilst all the time that person knew what others were thinking and were always saying things such as "I didn't know this at the time, but so and so thought this" or "so and so did this straight after I turned my back". The story also really disappointed, you didn't get any satisfying explanation for why Casper goes to crazy and other parts of the story just seem tangential or irrelevant. I kept reading to see if it would improve but it didn't.
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By jtommar on 8 July 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I managed to read just over half of this book and consider this a great achievement . This is by far one of the most boring books I have ever attempted to read. The main plot is established early on but the endless padding of just words that, I believe we're meant to be in some order, but added nothing to the story.

If you cannot sleep - then this is the book for you - it's bound to see you off within 10 minutes.

If you have the slightest of a brain spark then stay clear of this book otherwise you will suffer a complete lobotomy.
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By Nic M on 26 Jun. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have a long running policy never to put a book down before I have finished reading but in 45 years of reading I'm afraid that I have to add this title to the very short list of books that have defeated me no matter how hard I tried.

I just could not engage with the storyline the book, sorry just not for me :(
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and families for that matter. I really enjoyed the first part of the story - highly amusing in parts and grimly depressing in others. you could say that it is a bit bi-polar, haha. The following parts are tougher going but the characters are richly portrayed and the story gripping.
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