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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Luminous and enchanting
A new book by Jonathan Raban is enough of an event for me to order it pre-publication. This is a classic narrative novel with no fancy postmodern glitz, written in Raban's usual luminous, classic style -- as one critic said, he is incapable of writing a dull sentence. His characters are real, three-dimensional human beings who rise vividly from the page and keep you...
Published on 31 Aug 2003

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Ado About Nothing
I have read virtually all of Raban's books - fiction and non-fiction - and, as his novel "Foreign Land" is one of my favorites, I have tended to give him the benefit of the doubt even though much of his work is unimpressive.

However, I can't be remotely charitable about this novel which is a lazy, self-indulgent narrative that should never have been...
Published on 8 Aug 2012 by John Fitzpatrick


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Luminous and enchanting, 31 Aug 2003
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This review is from: Waxwings (Hardcover)
A new book by Jonathan Raban is enough of an event for me to order it pre-publication. This is a classic narrative novel with no fancy postmodern glitz, written in Raban's usual luminous, classic style -- as one critic said, he is incapable of writing a dull sentence. His characters are real, three-dimensional human beings who rise vividly from the page and keep you turning pages to find out what happens to them.
It's set in Seattle at the turn of the millennium, and tells the intertwined stories of two immigrants -- comfortably-off, Hungarian-English academic Tom Janeway, and illegal Chinese immigrant Chick. Their contrasting experiences give Raban the opportunity to leap from glitzy dot-coms and paper millionaires to slummy docklands and homeless people's encampments, showing his usual empathy with a wide range of people and environments. In some ways, it's reminiscent of David Lodge, but Raban's writing is more sensitive and his characters more rounded. The way he builds up relationships between his characters is utterly convincing, and at the end, without any drama, or anything really being resolved, you get a feeling that there is some kind of epiphany in both Tom and Chick's lives. And it isn't till the last page that you find out why it's called Waxwings! The last two paragraphs are simply beautiful.
It's not his best book, but I stayed up late to finish it. First of a series of three, so I look forward to the rest -- but knowing Raban's pace of writing I will have to be patient ...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely novel, 10 Oct 2006
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This review is from: Waxwings (Vintage) (Paperback)
I hadn't read anything by Raban before but I loved this book - a warm-spirited and enjoyable novel.

Set in Seattle in the dotcom boom of 1999-2000, the main character is Tom Janeaway, who is surrounded by a series of other mainly male supporting characters - Chick the Chinese immigrant, Detective Nagel, the opportunistic novelist David Scott-Rice, the lawyer Hamish McTurk, Tom's son Finn. There's also his partner, Beth.

As I start to write down the list of characters I realise that much of the pleasure of the book springs from Raban's ability to evoke a broad cast of characters - and to bring to life their fumbling attempts to connect, interact and (to coin a dotcom sort of phrase) transact. One peculiar gift Raban has is for describing people's smiles.

Much of the writing is vivid. There's a scene when, soon after separating from his partner, Tom decides to take up smoking again:

"There was nostalgic pleasure in disrobing the box of its cellophane wrapping and tweaking the foil covering aside to expose the triple-banked, cork-coloured muzzles of the cigarettes."

Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Temporary residents, 26 July 2011
This review is from: Waxwings (Paperback)
Waxwings by Jonathan Raban succeeds at every level. It's one of the best novels I have ever read. Its apparent simplicity continually reveals and interprets the complex, nuanced relationships we have with identity, individuality, family and aspiration. It's how we manage our inescapable selfishness that seems to count.

The principal characters are not Mr and Mrs Average. Tom is a university literature specialist who does regular radio talks. He's also overseeing an unlikely creative writing project for a man with money who is always in the air. Beth, Tom's wife, is a high flier in high tech. She works for a Seattle start-up dot com that's trying to bring navigable reality to an increasingly virtual world. She's the type that gets paid in options, optionally, despite working every minute of her life. Their little boy, Finn, named in recognition of Irish links, survives the careering whirlwind of the parental environment extremely well. It's easy to imagine the organised chaos of their old-style house, no doubt deliberately chosen for something Tom and Beth agreed to label character.

Chick is Chinese. At the book's start, he has successfully stowed away in a trans-Pacific container aboard a ship being piloted into dock. Others in the black interior have died en route, the rest captured by immigration officials. But Chick is resourceful and motivated. He survives, a keen if illegal immigrant, prepared to make a life for himself. His pithy existence admits no free time. His devotion to self-advancement is tunnel-vision complete, even if it means occasionally eating out of trash cans.

And then there's the apparently peripheral figures - the employer that happily watches his Sino-Mexican gang strip asbestos, the failed English hack who profitably reinvents himself as something hip, the college colleagues intent on asserting status, the dot com employees out for show. They are all superbly portrayed, perhaps with both sympathy and derision. Functional they may be, but they are never less than credible and suggest that each may be worthy of their own novel.

Almost as you would expect, Tom and Beth's marriage disintegrates. It kind of flakes at the edges until the centre cannot hold. She buys a new condo, perhaps thus revealing her enduring but unexpressed and suppressed distaste of the old house. She soon has a new nest mate or two. Finn reacts as children do and his sharing out between the less than estranged partners complicates.

Ton, of course, falls apart, except in public, as does publicly the house he continues to inhabit. He drinks, takes up smoking, but never seems to miss a meal, especially when Fin is around. He hires Chick, the Chinese immigrant, who is now doing roofing jobs with his own Mexican gang. As a relief from the grind, Tom takes a long, self-absorbed, creative walk, an act that might just have changed everything. We meet a policeman with his own scores to settle with life. The richness of Waxwings' canvas is staggering and thoroughly enriching.

But the masterstroke comes at the end and, for the ornithologist, it was there from the start. It relates to the habits of Waxwings. In their own way, all of these characters are passing migrants in the place that sustains them. Beth is part Irish, hence Finn. Tom is English, his family Hungarian refugees. Chick is Chinese. And everyone, individually is bent on stripping as many of life's berries off the tree as they can reach. It's a great study of the self.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Ado About Nothing, 8 Aug 2012
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John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Waxwings (Paperback)
I have read virtually all of Raban's books - fiction and non-fiction - and, as his novel "Foreign Land" is one of my favorites, I have tended to give him the benefit of the doubt even though much of his work is unimpressive.

However, I can't be remotely charitable about this novel which is a lazy, self-indulgent narrative that should never have been published.

It is set in Seattle at the turn of the millennium and brings together two immigrants to the US - an illegal Chinese and a legal Englishman.

The reader is supposed to believe that, within a few days of his arrival, the Chinese is running a business in which a group of Mexicans carry out repair work on the homes of affluent Americans.

While the Chinese is, at least, doing some real work, the Englishman is a useless academic at a minor college contributing nothing to his new homeland.

He is quaint as joke Englishmen in the US always are. He describes a detective as a "good egg", quotes Swift, Shakespeare and all those other old bores and tells his son - called Finn, incidentally - bedtime stories about a nasty character called Mr. Wicked whereas his politically correct American wife does not want the boy to eat sweets or watch too much television.

Other "characters" include an alcoholic English writer who is trying to get our hero's college to pay for him to make a reading tour of the US and a mysterious millionaire Indian business tycoon who is constantly flying and communicates by mobile phones which always break down so our hero never knows what he wants.

These - and other characters - flutter in and out with no purpose other than to fill pages.

Just to complicate things, the Englishman was actually born in Hungary and talks to his mother in Hungarian-accented English even though he does not speak Hungarian.

He ends up as a suspect in the disappearance of a child although he is just a victim of misunderstandings that are supposed to be funny but are not. He compares himself to characters in Kafka and P.G. Wodehouse, presumably for comic effect.

It is hard to believe that someone who could write such a delightful, bittersweet book as "Foreign Land" could produce such a lightweight work.

It reminds me of Ian McEwan's abyssmal "Solar" which has a similar main character and also struggled to be serious and amusing at the same time.
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Waxwings
Waxwings by Jonathan Raban (Paperback - 7 May 2004)
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