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3.8 out of 5 stars
To Heaven by Water
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2009
I should confess to being a bit of a fan of Cartwright's and particularly of his last novel, the Song Before it is Sung. But while that was an audacious historical novel set around 30s Oxford and the Stauffenberg plot, a glance at the back cover of his new book showed a far less ambitious novel fixated on domestic London life. I wasn't sure what to expect...

But in a way, it's the everyday setting that makes it all the greater an achievement. A smaller canvas, maybe, but there are no tricks and conceits to carry the writing along - it has to survive line by line without dramatic historical events to help it on its way. And Cartwright is masterful at it. He is one of those writers whom one reads while constantly thinking aloud to oneself: how can he know this about people - about relationships - about life? How can he be so perceptive? There's a wisdom to the writing, often manifested in a beautiful and sometimes deceptively simple turn of phrase, that gets to immediately to the point: be it describing Gordon Brown perfectly in three words, or explaining the guilt one might feel after the death of a loved one. It seems to me the most emotionally charged of his novels and it also includes, which i wasn't expecting, some jaw-droppingly dramatic moments which really keep the pages turning.

In summary, a wonderful book that I will treasure.

One last thing: I heard the first episode of it being read on Radio 4 last night and Bill Nighy is perfect as the narrator.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2011
Justin Cartwright is an unusually self-assured writer. In many respects his book, To Heaven By Water, is rather high-brow, the title lifted from James Joyce's Ulysses. Rather old-fashioned too with a rant in the closing pages from one of the characters explaining that we, the readers, are now like monks in the dark ages, keeping alive our culture while we are "squeezed in the embrace of triviality and infantilism". But from page one Cartwright does laugh-out-loud humour too. And his plot centred around David Cross, a much-respected, seasoned and disenchanted John Simpson-style television reporter, and his grown-up children (inhabitants of the more prosperous environs of Camden) has the easy raciness of a piece of chic-lit. Cartwright bridges the two with apparent ease, juggling plots lines about "trying for a baby" with bits of stoical philosophising by those nearing the end of plank. The "Noodle Club" scenes of grumpy old men meeting in a Chinese restaurant in Soho are an especial treat. If you read what we once called the literary pages in the nationals and want a beach book, look no further.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
David Cross is an ex-newsreader and television correspondent at a crossroads in his life. His wife is dead and his two children leading their own lives. This could have been a rather dull London-centric modern novel but Justin Cartwright's vivid eye for detail and brilliant story-telling turned To Heaven by Water into something special.

This nice, successful, prosperous family has secrets. Are secrets best kept hidden or should they be shared with those closest to you? Characters in this book do not always act in the most moral or ethical way but somehow we are led into being on their side. He gives us infidelity, adultery, stalking, mental illness and suicide - but it is all done with a lightness of touch and humour. He even manages to include Richard Burton as a character from his past life - and makes it quite believable. It is cleverly constructed - beginning and ending with David meeting up with a group of friends. There is also a trip to the African bush - a long,funny, poetic and spiritual journey.

Funny, perceptive and dark. Highly recommended.
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on 13 August 2012
Another superb offering from Cartwright. This novel centres around the Cross family - father David, recently retired from his position as anchor man on a leading television news bulletin, and his children Ed, 32, who is establishing a career as a lawyer, and Lucy, 26, who is a senior researcher for a prestigious auction house.
As the novel opens David's wife Nancy has been dead for a couple of months, and the family are struggling to adapt. Ed and Lucy are especially concerned that their father is demonstrating some unexpected traits, including an obsession with physical exercise. Indeed, as a consequence of this fitness drive he has lost a considerable amount of weight which leads his friends and family to fear that he is succumbing to cancer.. He is, however, perfectly fit.
Ed and his wife Rosalie are desperate to start a family but the pressure of this yearning is beginning to impose strains on their relationship. Meanwhile Lucy has recently split up from her boyfriend Josh, though he has not taken this development well.
This all makes it sound desperately serious. However, Cartwright manages to manipulate the different strands of the plot and the various relationship crises with great dexterity, and some hilarious episodes. All this is wrapped up in his beautiful prose - simple, clear yet also compelling.
He also delivers what is, within the context of the novel, one of the most stunning closing sentences ever!
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Justin Cartwright can write... possibly ought not to reproduce the same characters or rework same storyline. As a small joke, perhaps, introduces a major character in one book as a minor character in another book. Reworking a theme has its merits in that the reader knows the characters, viewing perhaps another strand of their experience. Possibly reworks his theme much as a fugue in music, perhaps. Would not read one book after the other or the taste palls. But, well worth the reading.
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on 9 November 2014
The first half of the book reminded me of Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, The Corrections and the second half was awesome!! Cartwritht is at his best when he travels to Africa, as in White Lightni g. I plan to order more books by him.
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on 23 March 2015
Brilliant novel. So reflective!! Reminds us all of our temporary status on this earth and of our strengths and limitations.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2012
This novel sold me on Justin Cartwright and I found the book difficult to put down. The relaxed style made me want to just keep on reading at the end. Cartwright's vocabulary is such that I had to use my Kindle's dictionary frequently. But it's not a five-star novel: it was almost too languid - it felt like it needed to be tightened if the author really wanted the whole book to communicate in its entirety. It probably could have benefited from better editing. Prompted me to move on to other Cartwrights though. By the way, can someone explain what the title means?
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on 28 February 2015
Also good reading
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on 26 May 2015
Excellent book
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