on 30 March 2010
I've been meaning to read this ever since the Channel 4 adaptation in 1993, which starred Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney.
The novel was first published in 1978 after being serialised in the San Francisco Chronicle. In it Armistead Maupin captures the spirit and atmosphere of a society with liberal attitudes to sex, sexuality and drugs. As such, the book does not seem as dated as it might have done.
The book follows the stories of around eight archetypal characters, from the naïve Mary Ann to the wise (but mysterious) Mrs Madrigal, the openly and flamboyantly gay (Michael) to the secretive and sinister (Norman). Centred on the lodgings run by Mrs Madrigal, and the "family" of residents, this is a book about friendship, relationships and the (often unexpected) connections between people.
While some of the references may be dated and specific to San Francisco, the book is a joy to read. The short chapters and easy-going style make it eminently readable.
on 17 August 2000
Found the first two on the shelves of the house in San Francisco where I was staying last week. Had just sprained ankle, so forced so sit in sun and read novels with foot on cushion all day (it was hell...) now home I hobbled to library and got out next two in series. What is it about some books - or perhaps some writers - that really makes you feel good? Can't say Maupin has actually cured the ankle, but the discovery of his books so late in my life (don't ask, honey) has certainly lifted my spirits. Another feel good book is "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith (yes the 1001 dalmatians author) which came out in WW2 before you were born sweetie, but has the same way of treating adult subjects seriously and yet lightly and humourously. So glad I sprained my ankle. I think.
on 5 June 2015
Tales of the City is the first in a series by Armstead Maupin. It’s set in the mid seventies in San Francisco and follows an intertwined group of characters, some of whom rent apartments in a building on Barbary Lane, and others who are affiliated with an advertising agency.
I enjoyed this book a lot and I think what makes it so special are the characters. The author uses his words really sparingly but you get a true sense of who all these people are. Although Mary-Anne is supposed to be the main character (I think), everyone gets equal airtime and their personalities are fleshed out well. I loved Anna Madrigal, the wise landlady, and Michael Mouse on his eternal quest for true love.
You also get a real sense of time. I wasn’t around when the book was set and I’ve never been to the west coast of America, but the whole story was very evocative of this time and place. In some respects it was quite seedy – there’s a whole lot of drugs and no-strings-attached sex – and in other ways it’s really very innocent and naïve. Most of the characters are looking for love, in one way or another, and it was set in a time before AIDS and HIV had appeared.
The book doesn’t have a definite plot as such; instead it’s presented as a series of vignettes, tiny glimpses into the characters’ lives and their interactions with each other. Each chapter is only two or three pages long and gradually they build on how one person’s actions affect other. It kind of feels like a gossip column at times – kind of fluffy and escapist – but still manages to be a good read.
Also it’s worth mentioning that this book was pretty groundbreaking for the time it was written in, featuring characters of a variety of sexualities and gender-identification in a matter-of-fact way.
One of the things I thought was, if not annoying, then certainly bizarre, was how all the characters were intertwined. They don’t start off as friends, or knowing each other at all really, but gradually they all connect through a series of chance meetings and coincidences. The coincidences seemed a bit contrived in some cases. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I’m assuming that because it’s a city, it’s … you know … big. And that a lot of people live there. So really, what are the chances that
Another thing that I found difficult to get on with was the dialogue. Personally – and this is only my opinion - I like to read dialogue interspersed with some actions to make it seem like a real scene.
Okay, here’s what Armistead Maupin does:
“What about San Francisco?"
"What about it?"
"Did you like it?"
She shrugged. "It was O.K."
She laughed. "Good God!"
"You're all alike here."
"How so?" he asked.
"You demand adoration for the place. You're not happy until everybody swears undying love for every nook and cranny of every precious damn --"
"Well, it's true. Can't you just worship it on your own? Do I have to sign an affadavit?"
He chuckled. "We're that bad, are we?"
"You bet your ass you are.”
This happened a lot and I had no idea how much this would irritate me, but it really does! It didn’t feel like a real conversation; it was more like reading a movie script.
I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with this series. I really liked the characters and the plot was left in a good place without a cliffhanger, so I don’t feel any burning need to see what happened next. I also think that some of the innocence and naivity that I liked would, necessarily, be lost in further books because it won’t be long before HIV and AIDS and yuppies rear their heads. Maybe I’ll just leave it where it is.
Written when I was a small child, set in a city I've never been to, in a decade I never knew. Why am I reading this? Because of a story about a fish called Ian.
A new book, Fishbowl, is compared to Tales of the City - a story about Ian the fish falling from a tower block, seeing people's lives as he falls. We then see more about their lives, and their connections.
Tales of the City does something similar. Without a fish. A country girl moves to the big city (San Francisco) in the 1970s. This is her story, but also the story of her friends, the people she lives with, the people she works with... and people they know.
Lots of interconnecting stories about love, death, sex and... well, just life. In a city of big bold colours and big bold statements. I found it funny, sad at times, and was quite interested in this foreign time and place.
I listened on audiobook, which would have been a tricky method of approaching this, as each small chapter (1-3 pages) features a different character. I have tried this before and this time, read the first 20 pages on a paper format to feel familiar with most of the characters first. This really helped, as I could then keep it a little straighter in my mind who was who.
Very entertaining read, part of a series written in the same style.
on 29 February 2004
My son has ADD and so has not been able to read a book all the way through since a teenager. I let him borrow this fantastic novel and he quite literally sat down and read it from cover to cover in a matter of hours. Not only is Tales of the City a witty, charming and altogether satisfying read but it has also kick-started my son's interest in books again. No one but Armistead Maupin can do this.
He weaves a quite delightful story, that is both touching and hilarious. The coincidences come thick and fast but never do you get a sense of them stretching credibility. He really makes you believe in the characters, you want to believe they exist and are not just fictional people. You want to find 28 Barbary Lane on a San Francisco road map and drop by for a cup of Ginseng Tea or perhaps hope to be invited to one of Mrs Madrigal's late night soirees.
Tales of the City is a modern masterpiece. It's magical, spellbinding and will take you on an adventure you will never forget. I can't rate it highly enough. Armistead, you are a genius!
on 15 July 2009
It is difficult to add anything truly significant to the previous reviews about this classic of late 20th Century US literature other than to confirm the seminal nature of the work. Sparking a series of follow-up novels, (and a television series) this is the original "grand dame" of metrosexual literature with a bewildering yet believable series of vivd and life-affirming characters positively pulsating within the quick-beating heart of a frontier-like late-70s San Francisco.
Irrespective of where you're coming from (geographically, morally, spiritually or otherwise) you are bound to pick something positive up from this fabulous feel-good book.
on 2 May 2011
Tales of the City is a fast-paced page-turner that you won't put down until you're finished, I read it cover to cover in a few hours! It's a very easy read that is straightforward and entertaining. You can effortlessly delve into this novel and escape into the hotch potch that San Francisco used to be. The character and plot development unfolds quickly and Maupin cleverly overlaps various character who come from different walks of life but we discover they all searching for the same thing. Believable characters that are easily loved. A great read, have just ordered the next few book in the series.
Centred on 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco, the home of Anna Madrigal, Tales of the City chronicles the day to day life of Mrs Madrigal and her assorted tenants, along with their friends and colleagues. The eccentric Mrs Madrigal considers her residents as her family, leaves them notes accompanied by a joint and serves brownies suitably fortified. The residents include twenty five year old Mary Anne, a naïve young secretary newly arrived from Cleveland; Mona, a successful copywriter working for ad agency Halcyon Communications; Brian Hawkins, a randy waiter and one time lawyer in his thirties; and Michael (Mouse) Tolliver, a thoroughly likeable lively gay twink. Among the friends and colleagues, and very much part of the story are Edgar Halcyon, head of Halcyon Communications; and Beauchamp Day, his promiscuous son-in-law and business partner; along with their respective wives. By a remarkable series of coincidences the lives of residents, friends and acquaintances connect and interweave to comic effect.
Their escapades range from the devious to the outrageous, ruthless to movingly caring; their sexual interests/orientation from straight to gay, and not always necessarily consistent; the whole providing an hilarious and touching account full of adventure.
A thoroughly entertaining, funny and fast moving read, with some endearing and very likeable characters, I highly recommended it; and very much look forward to the subsequent developments in the many sequels.
on 2 December 2015
A few months ago I put out a request for books set in San Francisco, and one book (or series of books) got mentioned over and over again. Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City had somehow passed me by - I'm really not sure how. But as soon as I started reading this first instalment, I knew I was going to be hooked.
The 'tales' belong to a wide and diverse cast. Mary Ann is new to San Francisco, moving into lodgings at 28 Barbary Lane. She's quiet and uncontroversial, very different to the other tennants living in the house. Mona seems unsure of what she wants from life and relies on sedatives to get through the day, Michael is gay, skint and looking for a good man (I loved him, especially in the scene with the jockey shorts in the bar), Brian sleeps with any woman he can find and landlady Anna Madrigal grows marijuana in the garden... plus there's an array of supporting characters each with their own secrets. Their lives are carefully and cleverly interwoven to create one world from what is essentially a series of short stories.
I liked how the scenes were snappy - most just a few pages long - and there was a lot of dialogue which added to the already fast pace. The dry humour and cutting remarks reminded me of a soap opera and have retained relevance 37 years after they were first written. Maupin lived in the San Francisco he was writing about and it shows, there's a realism in even the most outlandish of situations and that made me care about the characters and their plight.
This book is older than I am, and I imagine it was shocking when originally published (and probably still would be now to some readers!) Race, sexuality, drugs and infidelity are key to the plot and talked about openly, nothing is off limits. It was refreshing to read a book where every character is going through their own problems yet isn't overwhelmingly depressing. Somehow there's an uplifting air to Tales of the City despite the unfulfilled lives of the majority of the cast and to me that's conveyed through the genuinely touching where the characters reach out to each other.
The only negatives for me were that it took a while to get my head around so many different stories and I had to google some of the seventies American references to fully understand the story. But despite that I found myself so drawn to this wonderful world that I went straight onto the next book in the series. I need to know what happens next!
I've not read anything quite like this before. And I loved it.
on 31 March 2014
This book was next up on the list for my World Book Night reading challenge and so I picked up a copy from my local library.
Basically imagine that movie Crash where all the characters are linked by someone else; linked by six degrees of separation but set in the '70s and that is this book.
When Mary-Ann moves in to a house on Barbary Lane, San Francisco we soon learn about all the tenants; the intermingling lives of themselves, their friends and associates. There's characters that you'll love and some not so much but they do all bring something different to the story.
It's a book made up of very short chapters and mostly they start and finish in the middle of a page (I really dislike this!) and I think it actually reads like a soap opera in a book which reminded me of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (see that review here) with the drug use, hedonistic lifestyle and promiscuity. However, there are some really good twists which I quite enjoyed and didn't see coming.
After tweeting on Twitter that this was my next read I had a few replies with nothing but praise for this book:
@rebecca_mcr1146: "I loved it! Short chapters always make me want to read more. It's a great escape from dreary England!"
@MiddleAgedCred: "You'll love it. They become family."
@rspateman: "That's a fun series. Enjoy."
@DadofChelsea: "you will in for quite the ride. Get ready for falling in love with amazing characters"
@DrKilgoreTrout: "so lucky to start from the beginning!"
So, after all this postive praise, why didn't I love it? Yes, I enjoyed reading it but I didn't think it was amazing or anything I'll probably remember in 6 months. It's a fun read and quite light hearted, and I don't think there's any serious message to be learned here so why the high praise - I can't actually answer that, you'll need to read for yourselves!