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Pinkerton's Sister [Paperback]

Peter Rushforth
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
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Book Description

5 Sep 2005
It's turn-of-the-century New York, a city bursting with new life as the old century's order makes way for the mercantile class. But in the Pinkerton household a nineteenth-century embarrassment remains. Alice Pinkerton. Alice isn't mad exactly, but she's not sane either. She is tolerated, free to wander about, free to accompany her family to tea parties - free to be treated like a simpleton. But in truth Alice's mind is razor sharp, honed by a restless imagination, years of reading and a profound contempt for her surroundings. Left alone to read, to think, she has devoured the world that brings her mind alive: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Michelangelo, Whitman, Poe, they are her inspiration; Jane Eyre, Catherine Moreland, Desdemona her companions. As she moves through the witless world around her, observing its prejudices, its shallow culture and its vanity, it is society that prompts her observations, viewing all through the prism of the art that has sustained and nourished her lonely life.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; New edition edition (5 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743252373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743252379
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,488,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Sometimes, a book comes along that demands attention, so considerable is its achievement. Peter Rushforth’s Pinkerton’s Sister has all the earmarks of being such a book, with the twenty-five years it took to write resulting in a novel that his publishers (for once) are fully justified in calling a ‘tour de force’. This is a sprawling, ambitious, richly detailed piece of work that recalls Joyce's Ulysses in its panoramic picture of a whole society, presented through a series of sharply observed mini-portraits (although Rushforth is more immediately accessible than his great predecessor).

Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Rushforth’s subject is the Pinkerton family, still yoked in pre-Twentieth Century ways. Alice Pinkerton is treated with care and indulgence by her family as she is ’special’; somewhere on the fringes (as her family perceives it) of sanity, and taken out to social events but always nervously observed. Alice has her own world, constructed out of the books she loves --and this literary conceit is the engine of Rushforth’s remarkable book. Alice has enriched her mind with the gothic menace of Jane Eyre and the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the wit of Oscar Wilde, the glorious poetry of Shakespeare, the insights of Walt Whitman. With laser-like penetration, she cast a cool eye on the follies of the world around her, her observations honed by the great work of literature that are her inspiration.

Over two decades ago Peter Rushforth published his first book, the much-acclaimed Kindergarten, and that small masterpiece has lacked a companion for many years. The wait was well worthwhile: Pinkerton’s Sister may be an arm-straining volume at 729 pages, but amply rewards the patient reader’s close attention. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
PLEASE READ THIS BOOK ! It is superbly written, and it is also very very funny, a point not brought out by the reviews I have read. I have never laughed so much, and I do not normally find books hilarious. Don't be put off by negative reviews. This is a treasure of a book. Humour is an individual taste, and there may be someone out there who fails to enjoy this book. He or she will be the loser. It is a serious novel, too; there are many truths and perceptions in the flow of satire on the worthy citizens that Alice comes into contact with. One example of its wit: one of Alice's betes noir, all swathed in tartan rugs and veils for an outing in a 19th century automobile, is said to look like a "kidnapped Scottish beekeeper. "
Don't hesitate ! Read it ! Beg or borrow it ! Buy it ! Encourage the author to hurry to the publishers with the next two books; the wait will be agony, but I'll read it again whilst I'm waiting.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read 25 Oct 2004
I have now finished Pinkerton's Sister - but it has by no means finished with me! It's clearly one of those books which stay with one, long after reading. Alice has stayed in my mind as a personality I had met and cared about, and wanted to meet again. She didn't disappoint me, though I ached for her as well as continuing to delight in her ability to destroy the pomposity of her society in a few(?) well-chosen words and images. The description of the attack on Michaelangelo's David ( and his response) had me almost in tears with laughter. In fact, I don't remember when I last read a book that caused me to laugh out loud so much. Nearly 800 pages of her subversive humour was a joy. The literary references, the wordplay (I have a friend for whom a pun-box would be a good idea!), Alice's precision about punctuation, which puts Lynn Truss in the shade....she's a treasure. Mind you, I'm not sure I would like to meet her in real life: there are hints of the Jane Austen we see in the letters, where the caustic comments make one catch one's breath. It's not hard to see why the people she had to live among found her difficult!
I read only the first couple of pages of Part 3, and I was tense with anxiety for her, as the shadows drew round her. The change of mood is impressive, - and I almost wept for her and Annie, as I read the Pass the Parcel sections, while still shaking with laughter at the Celestial City. The way in which horror is sketched in, rather than being described in sordid detail, as is currently fashionable, is, I find, so much more powerful. However, I did not react against the gory detail of the description of the death of her father, as that, I could quite believe, was how she would have reacted, and consequently I did, too.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius? 16 Oct 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a novel of startling originality, totally unlike anything I've ever read before.
It tells the life in a day of 35 year old Alice Pinkerton, the supposed sister of the Ben Pinkerton in 'Madame Butterfly', and is set in New York at the turn of the last century.
Alice, ostensibly mad in an attic, is actually very well-read and intelligent. In addition to viewing her life in terms of the novels and the poetry she has read, (this book is frighteningly literate, making you wish you had read more yourself) she takes off in surreal flights of fancy when contemplating the grotesque characters amomgst whom she finds herself: Mrs. Albert Comstock, who is the big fish in the small pond of Longfellow Park.'If she'd been on the menu at the feeding of the five thousand they wouldn't have needed the second fish and the five loaves would have been entirely surplus to requirements' and so on and so on. And you'll certainly never look at Michelangelo's 'David' in the same way again.
Thiis book is a real page-turner, Peter Rushforth clearly had a whale of a time writing it. It is laugh-aloud funny, moving, even grim at times.
It is full of fun with words: puns, alliteration, onomatopoeia, joy in the sounds of words:'She scuttled then she skittled then she broke a leg'.
One could quote from every page.
This seems to me to be a great book, even a work of genius, densely textured, multi-layered, where every word counts. It is not a book to be taken up to skim for an odd five minutes, it requires to be read carefully and attentively, but the rewards are immense.
It should qualify for one of the major literary prizes since it was published just too late to make the Booker long list.
It is a wonderful achievement.

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1.0 out of 5 stars a bit beyond me! 5 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I went solely by the 'back page' and within a few chapters realised my mistake. Can't comment much as I skipped through the rest and just found it totally uninteresting. Milton's 'Paradise Lost' would have been more fun.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointed 8 Feb 2011
I expected a lot more from this book. It is far too long and after a while it just gets boring. There is very little action and the supposed "intellectual profudity" is not as deep as others claim - it often tries to be too clever. This was the worst book which I read in 2010.
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