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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You cannot write well unless you have read well. If you read trash, trash will be the result of your labours."
Seventy-year-old Harry Chapman has just been admitted to a hospital for diagnosis and treatment of health problems. Confined to bed for the next two weeks, Harry, a writer, cannot help sharing his thoughts with the reader and sometimes the hospital staff. Books, poems, plays, and paintings are a vivid part of his on-going reality, with some of Harry's favorite literary...
Published 23 months ago by Mary Whipple

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being Harry Chapman
In a kind of slow motion "life passing before your eyes" before death moment, we see the layers of Harry's life stripped bare, and we come to learn just what makes Harry tick in this surprisingly different, and at times challenging book. I absolutely loved the first two-thirds of the book, as Harry journey in and out of lucidity threw up ever more interesting insights...
Published on 11 Mar 2012 by ReadThis,LikedThis


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You cannot write well unless you have read well. If you read trash, trash will be the result of your labours.", 21 July 2012
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
Seventy-year-old Harry Chapman has just been admitted to a hospital for diagnosis and treatment of health problems. Confined to bed for the next two weeks, Harry, a writer, cannot help sharing his thoughts with the reader and sometimes the hospital staff. Books, poems, plays, and paintings are a vivid part of his on-going reality, with some of Harry's favorite literary characters and his most admired fellow writers crossing the borders of reality and fiction to work their way into his memories of real people and real events. Though his attention constantly jumps around, it is through these seemingly random memories, stories, favorite poems, and observations about life that author Paul Bailey succeeds in bringing Harry to life and creating a "real" person for the reader.

Harry chats with Bartleby, the Scrivener, from Melville's novel of the same name, and tells the priest that he has his own spiritual resources - George Herbert, John Donne, and Marcus Aurelius. He remembers Henry IV, Part I, in which he once acted; calls up Jack Hawkins to act as his personal lookout, instead of Long John Silver's; and remembers the friend who introduced him to Babar and Celeste, at whose elephant wedding he imagines Fred Astaire dancing with Celeste. As thoughts of Virginia Woolf, Malcolm Lowry, and many other authors drift through Harry's befogged consciousness, he also reveals more private information about his own life - his friends, his enemies, and his lovers. His dour and hurtful mother Alice, "the perpetual dampener of every prideful feeling, [with] her bottomless bucket of ice-cold water perpetually at hand," is a constant, upsetting presence.

Though Harry can be a literary showoff, the reader comes to understand that the books he has read are part of who he is, and as he has shown with his poems, the world of literature is the best way he knows to communicate with the outside world. The play on words of the title, with the reminders of George Chapman's ground-breaking translations of the Iliad (1598) and Odyssey (1616) and of romantic poet John Keats's "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" (1816), establish the fact that Harry Chapman's stay in the hospital is his own odyssey, and though his memories do not have one-to-one parallels with the voyage of Odysseus, they are as varied, traumatic, and even, sometimes, as captivating as those of Odysseus in his twenty years of wandering.

Chapman's Odyssey is a delightful and involving treasure trove for English majors and lovers of the classics, but it may be frustrating for those who do not share these interests. The dry humor and irony which accompany the limited "action" of the novel depend fully upon the connections to literature; to the children's books of the past, like Treasure Island; to famous paintings; to actors and entertainers from fifty years ago; and in one case, to Wimbledon stars of the past. Harry's need to be loved is almost palpable, and as the reader shares his memories and envisions him-/herself in circumstances similar to Harry's, the novel takes on a poignancy which cuts through the intellectual posing to Harry's inner core. Ultimately, author Paul Bailey has created a novel in which Harry becomes an everyman on an odyssey, one in which he seeks answers to life's most basic questions of what life means and whether the journey has been worthwhile.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being Harry Chapman, 11 Mar 2012
By 
ReadThis,LikedThis (North East England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
In a kind of slow motion "life passing before your eyes" before death moment, we see the layers of Harry's life stripped bare, and we come to learn just what makes Harry tick in this surprisingly different, and at times challenging book. I absolutely loved the first two-thirds of the book, as Harry journey in and out of lucidity threw up ever more interesting insights and understandings, as well as some wonderfully poignant and comical moments. But by the last third of the book, the relentlessness of the visions, and lack of any structure as Harry's reflections became increasingly more varied and odd became distracting. There were stages where I felt like I was just reading random snippets from 100s of other books glued together in no sensible or apparent order. In a sense, this is the intent that Bailey set out to create, as an increasingly jumbled set of thoughts wash through Harry's mind. But for this reader, it began to get tiresome and I felt like I was plodding through towards the conclusion. It's a shame, because this slow down aside, this is a challenging and human book which explores love and life in a new and revealing way, and had much to offer. We end up liking Harry for what he is, and learn through the process of his mental dissolution to learn more about him, how we ticks and share in his loves, disappointments and betrayals more than in many other books I have read in recent times.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful gem of a novel, 28 Jan 2011
This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
Paul Bailey is not a prolific novelist, but when he does deliver a new book it always proves to have been worth waiting for. In this masterly novel he sets out to tell the story of a man's life in the most unpromising of fictional situations - a hospital bed (much like Samuel Beckett). It is testament to the skill of this writer that by the end of the book the reader feels they have been on an epic journey through the obsessions, lovers, furies, dreams and hopes of an individual's life. Not only that, but Bailey manages to spirit out of this apparently static fictional situation a surprise ending. It takes enormous writerly skill to do what he has done here. The book is by turns funny, charming, intensely moving, but above all it is 'real' in the sense that the reader fully believes in this flawed, thoughtful, sometimes pedantic and starchy, but loveable rogue.
But what underpins all of this, and what drives the narrative forward is the glittering quality of the prose. Ali Smith is quoted on the front cover describing Bailey as one of the most nimble writers today. This novel is a masterclass in how fiction can work in the hands of a true craftsman.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deserves full marks for being different, 3 Mar 2012
This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Paperback)
This is the first time I've read a novel by Paul Bailey. It certainly is different! As previous reviewers have mentioned, Harry is "visited" in hospital by various people from his past (including his dead parents). Less successful in my opinion are other author's fictional characters such as Pip from "Great Expectations", it grates somehow. This is probably because it breaks the unwritten contract between the author and the reader, whereby the reader agrees to immerse himself/herself in the author's fictional world as long as the author does nothing to remind the reader that it is a fictional world. Suddenly being confronted by characters from different author's novels does this. But on the whole, a great read: surprising, poignant, funny and memorable.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction at its Best, 3 Mar 2011
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
Paul Bailey, Chapman's Odyssey

Despite the title Paul Bailey's new novel is hardly a sequel to Homer and still less a tribute to George Chapman, the Elizabethan poet who first made Homer accessible to a vast readership, culminating in John Keats with his sonnet, `On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.' No, our hero is not Chapman, the poet and dramatist, and his voyages, alas, are extremely constricted, for throughout the novel Harry Chapman is confined to a hospital bed, from where, forever so to speak at death's door, he is subject to an array of physical and mental tortures as he tries to put his life into some sort of perspective before his inevitable demise.

Harry is obviously, like his author, steeped in literature, a lover of poetry and the quirks of language, a sometime teacher and writer of sorts. None of this would necessarily endear him to a modern reader not a fan of highbrow English literature. The reader may well be tempted to conflate Harry with his author and find his constant so-so apt quotations to himself and to the surrounding hospital staff a little tedious and pedantic. To some extent this may be true; one would not relish spending half an hour at his hospital bedside while he spills out his learning and forever recites perfectly remembered lines. The many attendant nurses, medical orderlies, consultants and surgeons who visit him, however, seem to be fascinated and even delighted by their garrulously eccentric patient; they demand more and more. Give us a poem, Harry! Something cheerful, this time. And Harry duly obliges, sandwiching in between operations a little Shakespeare, Spenser or what-have-you before or after `going down to the theatre.'

A clever idea, and all good fun for the Eng Lit pundit, but perhaps not for the common reader and surely not for the ward orderly? What, however, is even better fun are the voices that pursue Harry in his sleeping or semi-comatose states. Pip of Great Expectations visits him a few times, as does Herman Melville's Bartleby. His whole reading past comes back to him under or after anaesthetic. But even more insistent are the voices of his long-dead lovers and above all that of his acerbic mother, forever at his back and calling him to order. The mental and moral jumble caused by voices from his real and imagined past are even more painful and at times more exquisitely revealed than the immediate physical pain he endures from his lower bowel - and twice as embarrassing as he confides to the reader, but not the staff, his not so pretty history as a sexual deviant and moral leper.
In the end one comes to like, or even love, this hopeless and helpless wreck of a man who manages to keep his spirits up and even entertain others. For Harry the pedant and pervert, self-obsessed as we all are, reaches out from the grave (almost) to touch the reader. Here is a man, who, while being constantly confused, is in his heart suffering from very few or no delusions. Here, the reader feels, is an honest man - a deceiver who knows he is a concealer of much that is socially unmentionable, not respectable. Ultimately Harry wins us over because his revelations allow him to be honest to himself and to let the reader (though not the medical staff) into the inner reaches of his consciousness. You don't have to be an Eng Lit wallah to enjoy this one; but if you are, then that's a bonus.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The kindness of strangers and consolations of literature, 27 April 2013
By 
Emily - London (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
So what's the story here? Does the character have a problem he must solve? Well, certainly he's got a problem, because he's been taken violently ill and is in hospital not looking good, and his lover has gone on a contemplative holiday to India and cannot be contacted. If there is a solution, it must be about how to survive in the middle of the business of not-quite-dying. Memory will speak to him - tormenting and comforting him.

As is customary, he will try to make some kind of narrative out of his life. But this will not be about his undoubted success as a writer, or his failed career as an actor. This will be about his mother, his friends and lovers, his cat. It will be about the consolations of literature and the way books pulled him out of the life he was born into. `Hadn't she noticed that her son wished to escape from the refined but desperate poverty into which he was born? Hadn't she heard him lament that there has to be something more beautiful to contemplate than the view of the gasworks and the candle factory? Obviously not, for if she had she would have understood why he was a dreamer." Like Keats, first looking into Chapman's Homer, he is taken to new worlds, and out of the one he found himself in.

This is someone who as a young man had committed all of Shakespeare's sonnets to memory. He pulls poem after poem like rabbits out of a hat to speak to his condition and to recite to the nurses. As we read, we know that Bailey can do it. Even though the poems are increasingly, desperately, esoteric, we allow him licence.

But this is not just about books. This is a reflection on the kindness of strangers - the nurses on the ward, the woman who when he was a young man persuaded him in the night not to jump off the bridge into the river. This is about being ill and the way the world knocks through your weak outer defences and permeates you. In hospital, you have no control over who wanders in and past, pick up edges of stories, have few defences. The nurses' interest, the pain relief, the whims of strangers flow over you - and Harry's only push-back is his ability to draw on a deep well of poetry. King Lear seems relevant: `The worst is not, So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'

As voices press in, not around him only, but from within - his dead mother, his dead vindictive, drunken lover, his father as a young man in the trenches, his Auntie Rose - the real balancing up that is done is over how we make a difference to each other's lives. His mother pulls him down, his aunt pulls him up. `He had been `lovely' for once or twice in the year, when Rose had come to visit. Jessie had been designated `lovely' too.' We are transformed by people - sometimes for the good. And Harry mourns the death of his school friend Leo - Leo and Leo's father made such a difference to his life - bringing music, culture, food, a sense of another world. Harry finds out only after Ralph's death that he made a difference too to Ralph - and Ralph's sister still remembers.

There is resolution needed - those conversations that never happened. Harry goes back to talk to his father who died when he was eleven. He finds him as a young man in the trenches beside his dead friend. Some of the conversations are with his friends from literature - they have plenty to say about death and madness. And life meets literature - Harry's mother has it out with snotty Virginia Woolf over how she will have her tea. Literature meets food - with `nil by mouth' written over your hospital bed, cue dreams of exotic banquets like a night-long last supper.

Harry's real funeral is almost like the ones he dreamt about. `This was the farewell party Harry would have wanted, Graham thought as midnight approached. There had been some serious conversations, but the farcical spirit had finally prevailed. Brenda had left wearing the waste paper basket like and Easter bonnet, and that was a vision Harry would have cherished.'
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5.0 out of 5 stars A SUPERB NOVEL, 14 Nov 2012
By 
D. J Penick - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Chapman's Odyssey (Hardcover)
Harry Chapman is dying He's not quite sure, of course, and the nurses and doctors are reassuring. His deceased parents, vanished lovers, distant friends, and the literary characters he has loved come and go unbidden as his mind drifts. Some are helpful, some consoling, others importunate, and relentlessly unpleasant. These relationships with the vanished, the distant, the imaginary continue and evolve.

Paul Bailey unfolds this journey in a way that is effortless, comic, and deeply poignant; it is utterly unsentimental. CHAPMAN'S ODYSSEY is the work of a great artist. It's a marvel.
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Chapman's Odyssey
Chapman's Odyssey by Paul Bailey (Hardcover - 17 Jan 2011)
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