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Private Life

Private Life [Kindle Edition]

Jane Smiley
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £7.99
Kindle Price: £4.70 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
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Product Description


'A masterpiece of a novel that stands with the best of Smiley's work.' -- John Burnside, Guardian

'It kept me up all night, long after I'd finished it.' -- Washington Post

'If you're looking for a good saga to get stuck into on your holiday, this is it ... Buy it, read it, pass it on.' -- Image

'An enthralling portrait of the difficult marriage between a diffident woman and an overbearing man.' -- Marie Claire

'Through every scene and revelation, she keeps in mind the moment she's building toward: the completion of Margaret's long-deferred self-recognition.' -- New York Times Book Review


"Masterly. . . .[A] precise, compelling depiction of a singular woman." -"The New Yorker"
"Extraordinarily powerful. . . .It's not often that a work as exceptional as this comes along in contemporary American letters." -"Washington Post"
"Smiley's best novel yet. . . . [A] heartbreaking, bitter, and gorgeous story." -"The Atlantic Monthly"
"Remarkable. . . . With its quietly accruing power, "[Private Life" is] the kind of book that puts the lie to those who claim that great novelists produce their best work early and spend the rest of their lives gilding the lily." --"Chicago Tribune"
" "
"Has a Jamesian twist of the unforeseen, but it's achieved with a sureness of hand that's all [Smiley's] own." --"The New York Times Book Review"
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"Smiley's eye is keen, and the book's historical pageant is often mesmerizing and often elegantly composed. . . . A quiet tragedy." --"The Seattle Times"
" "
""Private Life," perhaps Jane Smiley's best novel sin

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 657 KB
  • Print Length: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber Fiction (6 May 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003O2SCSS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #199,058 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Marriage 23 May 2010
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
Smiley's latest book is a historical novel following one woman's life from her childhood in Missouri after the Civil War to married life in San Francisco, with the action inexorably moving towards the Second World War.

Margaret is a character notable for her ordinariness and apparent passivity; she says of herself 'I was the third sister even though I'm the oldest. There's always a beautiful sister and a smart sister, and then there's a sister that's not beautiful or smart'. Her life is occupied with soothing and reining in her egotistical husband, an astronomer obsessed with disproving Einstein's theory of relativity. When she overhears her acquaintances describing her as a 'saint' she is deeply wounded, realizing how they must pity her situation.

I found this book enjoyable and the time period it covered was interesting. However, there did seem to be something rather flat and unadventurous about its narrative (despite well-drawn minor characters and flashes of sharpness and irony from both Margaret and the third person narrative). The last third of the book, however, became progressively darker and more nightmarish and one realises how Smiley has been building up layer after layer of domestic detail until the reader realises that they are just as much trapped in the marriage as Margaret is.

The ending is very well done, leaving one with a feeling of both resolution and revelation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best novels 27 Nov 2011
This wonderful book may at first seem a little too full of detail, but these accumulates in a way that is both gripping, necessary and terrifying, perhaps particularly to those of us who are older and who expected that the only successful way for a woman to live was to marry and support her husband and children; not to develop her own interests, but to subsume them to others'. This denying of one's own nature and perception may start early and may take a lifetime to first, become aware of, and then, to modify - or is this even possible? And of course, this may happen to anyone, trying to fit their individuality to a society's expectation: it is not confined to women of a certain age. At the same time, in this novel, the heroine's fatal adaptability is contrasted with what can happen to and around an individual who takes far too little account of others'; he can innocently cause misery and death.

This is one of the finest novels to be read at several levels: at one, a fascinating life story, a historical view of the first half of the 20th century in North America, at the same time, deeply exploring our need to know ourselves and our place within the world. Can both ever be reconciled?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unhappy Marriage 31 Jan 2011
By elkiedee VINE VOICE
This historical novel set between 1883 and 1942 is a story of an unhappy marriage. It is a slow paced novel of thoughts and feelings, with significant historical events forming the backdrop for Margaret's private life, but I thought it was beautifully written and thoughtful.

Margaret's widowed mother is keen to see her three daughters marry well, and relieved when Margaret, the oldest, finally marries at the old age of 27, to Captain Early, a naval officer and scientific genius. She looks forward to having children, but a miscarriage is followed by a sickly baby who only lives for a few weeks. Meanwhile, she learns how her marriage was engineered by her husband's mother and her own. Andrew is an eccentric with a talent for alienating people - the man once regarded as a scientific genius in their Missouri hometown turns out to be just a mad scientist and not a very good one.

There are many things to like about this novel despite the atmosphere of boredom and frustration, as Margaret is trapped in a stultifying marriage. I enjoyed the California setting as the couple move to Vallejo near San Francisco and the dry wit with which Smiley highlights the contradictions of Margaret's life. Margaret is a warm, caring person and she makes friends outside the home, including the single career woman Dora and the Japanese Kimura family. I liked the way Margaret retained and developed the ability to think for herself and question her husband's prejudices. I was very moved by the account of the birth and short life of Margaret's son and her difficulties breastfeeding him. I loved the detailed portrayal of social attitudes, including those in Margaret's family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Eileen
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is great for cold winter evenings when you just want to escape into something that is soft and cozy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tragic tale 9 Aug 2011
By June G
This is a tragic story about a wife who does what society expects of her and ends up horribly bitter. It's very moving - and it's hard to finish the book without feeling angry with the woman for not fighting back. It's also a salutary tale still today - not just for women but anyone cowed by convention into living a life which they hate. The husband's character is hauntingly awful. Sometimes the author seems to assume too much historical knowledge on the part of the reader, which can get in the way of enjoyment. But this is very good novel, and one I am finding hard to shake off. I definitely recommend it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars But there was nothing he loved more than new information...
This book partly concerns the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 in which thousands of people died when a firestorm swept the coastal area of the quake. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Eileen Shaw
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to stay interested...
Very slow and dull, despite interesting main characters. I was disappointed and found it hard to slog through this.
Published on 14 July 2011 by J. Poole
4.0 out of 5 stars The ordinary made interesting
Unlike some authors, Jane Smiley never seems to write the same book twice, this makes Private Life both interesting and original
The novel tells the story of Margaret from her... Read more
Published on 30 Jun 2011 by Reddy
2.0 out of 5 stars Dreary, dreary oh so dreary
This was our summer book club read....oh dear......depressing or what? None of us 8 had anything positive to say about this, some of us didnt even get past half way...... Read more
Published on 6 Jun 2011 by WillerbyMum
2.0 out of 5 stars Private Life
This book was about a dull and unfulfilling marriage, and reading it was equally dull and unfulfilling. Read more
Published on 26 May 2011 by Verity
3.0 out of 5 stars Sombre novel
This is a sombre and deliberate novel that takes the reader through 60 years from the 1880s to 1942, firstly in Missouri and later in California. Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2011 by A. J. Kubicki
2.0 out of 5 stars A long, dull marriage dissected
The outcome of Jane Smiley's curious decision to write a novel about a long and dull marriage is, sadly, a long and dull read. Read more
Published on 1 Sep 2010 by Poppy Hall
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I have come to understand God as a Being for whom it is my privilege to search, rather than as one for whom it is my obligation to perform.” &quote;
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