Top positive review
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More like 3.5 stars because of the beginning and end
on 2 October 2003
The good bits: excellent characterization, particularly the male lead, and a plot with just the right amount of twist (calm down, no spoilers).
In comparison with the rather clunking setting of "When I Lived in Modern Times", the historical material is deftly handled. The characters mesh seamlessly with their histories, despite the broad canvas on which the action is painted (encompassing, directly or indirectly, Jewish lives in Germany, Eastern Europe's 'shtetelekh', Chicago, London, Israel, and, naturally, Liverpool. I don't think I've missed anything out).
As a study of two people emerging from their personal and family histories and facing up to their present-day selves, "Still Here" is excellent. The switching of narrative voice between the two lead characters works extremely well. However, the author's attempts to ram home one of the novel's key "points" via the heavy-handed reiteration of the "immigrant" motif are unnecessary. There's no need to keep underlining any of the metaphorical meanings of "still here". The action and characters speak for themselves most effectively.
The style sometimes grates, too, with short, staccato sentences, in particular, used to poor effect in descriptive passages.
And then there's the beginning and the end. The opening sentence ("From the river the city seemed like a colossus") nearly made me put the book down. Perhaps the author is making ironic use of an "unskilled" narrative voice? That doesn't seem to happen to such a dramatic degree elsewhere in the novel. It seems to me that this metaphor falls flat, to say the least. Or maybe it's just a tactic to avoid the cliché of saying that the city "bestrides" like a colossus (something which Liverpool, as far as the River Mersey is concerned, famously does not do). Still, I'm very glad that I read on.
And the end? No spoilers, I just found it a little glib and unconvincing.
As a Liverpudlian (originally from Wavertree), I found an extra dimension in the precise placement of events in the city. But the novel never becomes a mere travelogue, and has plenty to say about universal modern themes that touch all of us. Like Woody Allen's best films (I don't know whether the author would welcome this comparison), it has things to say about the meaning of life that initially sound trite, but which transcend their immediate context when you think about them more carefully.