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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of insouciance?
I found myself overwhelmed by this book. It grabbed me on the first page and did not let go until the muddled sadness of the ending.
The story, told on tape by Joshua Bland, is the rambling but totally compelling autobiography of a rich man who has set the time and date of his suicide and spends his last days in his New England house, with little sleep and bolstered...
Published 14 months ago by Penny Waugh

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "EXIT, TALKING"
Joshua Bland - in the 1920's child genius, a sensation in New Athens, Iowa. When one and a half he could recite the Ten Commandments, backwards. Such talents prove a lucrative source of income and reflected glory for his mother from hell.

Now it is 1959, Joshua totally messed up and planning suicide. The 558 pages comprise his final eight days of taped...
Published 22 months ago by Mr. D. L. Rees


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of insouciance?, 6 May 2013
By 
Penny Waugh "A reader" (UK) - See all my reviews
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I found myself overwhelmed by this book. It grabbed me on the first page and did not let go until the muddled sadness of the ending.
The story, told on tape by Joshua Bland, is the rambling but totally compelling autobiography of a rich man who has set the time and date of his suicide and spends his last days in his New England house, with little sleep and bolstered by pills, setting out the details of his extraordinary life.
His life contains many misfortunes, not least the fact that he was a child prodigy with an almost off the scale IQ, growing up in a small town in Iowa which regards him as a freak, with an unforgettable pushy mother and few friends. His childhood takes up a large section of the book, told admittedly while his mind is relatively clear, and it does much to explain the way his character and his life worked out.
He loathes himself, and he loathes almost everybody else, and admittedly there is much to loathe in most of the people he remembers, and he has over the years, deliberately, destroyed any chance of happiness he has had by reacting with deeds and words of wilful violence.
As reader, I found it impossible to hate or even dislike Joshua Bland and I ended up with a great deal of sympathy for him. His arrogance and his vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. Basically his instincts are good and though he ruins everything at every turn he knows it but is powerless to stop himself. His parents, ghastly mother, ineffectual father and a stepfather at least as mixed up as he is himself; marriages, the first ruined as much by his wife as by himself; the second disaster his own doing; affairs, again mostly disastrous; friendships, again lost but due to the deaths of his closest friends in war - all these are told against himself, mercilessly, as his remaining days grow shorter and his memories crueller and more fragmented.
This book was first published in 1961 and covers the period from the 1920s to 1959. To me it read as freshly as if it was newly published, and in contrast to another new novel I read recently covering something of the same period, had infinitely more life to it.
Joshua Bland is a deeply flawed character but I could not see him as a monster. He sets out his life and the people he has known in bitter detail but with a black humour that I found irresistible. I did feel he seemed older than the late-thirties he was supposed to be, but then he had been an 'adult' in mind if not in emotions from a very early age.
The detail of American life in the period before, during and after WW2 is fascinating, including the cult of the child prodigy in the 20s/30s, which must have led to many real life tragedies. Joshua's war memories are fragmented but feel very real and the let down feel of post war life comes over strongly.
This is a book I am delighted to have discovered, via Nancy Pearl. I feel it is one I will be rereading.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hate thy neighbour as thyself, 24 Jun 2012
By 
Alun Williams "mathematician manqué" (Peterborough,England) - See all my reviews
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This book has been republished, some fifty years after its first outing, because the editor of the "Book Lust" series, Nancy Pearl, has long loved it, and has apparently read it more than a dozen times. I did enjoy reading "A Gay and Melancholy Sound", but can't help feeling her devotion is a little unhealthy: the narrator of the book, Joshua Bland, is a confirmed misanthrope, whose dislike of the human race begins with himself, embraces most of his family, and extends to almost everyone he comes into contact with throughout his life. Although he has, it seems, many good qualities, most people who do encounter him end up being badly hurt by him.
I think that if I got to knew a man like Joshua I would end up avoiding him, probably after a quarrel in which I would tell him to stop feeling so sorry for himself and to pull himself together (never very helpful advice to give somebody I know, but Joshua would probably be a *very* annoying friend). Two things gave me the patience to keep on reading what is quite a long book at almost 550 pages: the black humour with which Joshua narrates his very unusual life, and the fact that Joshua does recognize goodness and love on the rare occasions he comes across them, and indeed writes quite perceptively about them.
This is an American novel, and though it has some very American characters - especially Joshua's pushy and self-deluding mother, who attempts to find fame and fortune by exploiting her son's exceptional intelligence, and Joshua's Jewish literary agent with his all-American family, yet in some ways it is very un-American: Joshua is unable to find any kind of redemption or happiness, despite a fair measure of material success: religion, sex, and psychoanalysis are all unavailing.
I imagine some readers will loathe this book: it is certainly well written and contains plenty to entertain the reader, but I think some will be unable to stomach Joshua's unremitting self-hatred.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a marvellous book, wonderfully rediscovered, 15 July 2012
By 
Angus Jenkinson "angusjenkinson" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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Nancy Pearl has done readers of fine literature a great service in returning this book to publication and promoting it. It is a beautifully written, intelligent, emotional and funny work of classic fiction. The setting for the novel is a man planning to commit suicide, reviewing his life through a series of tape recordings during his last days.

Joshua Bland, protagonist and narrator, was born in the 1920s, growing up in the great depression. He had been a child prodigy, a genius famous across America, with the highest ever recorded IQ and a winner of a series of knowledge competitions, especially popular in those difficult years.

Now a mature man, wealthy, a bestselling author, yet a failure by the standards that were set for him, his review is filled with forensically acerbic observation of the smalltown world he grew up in, his family, the people he knew, often with a delightful irony that Jane Austen would have admired. There is nothing bland about Joshua.

His life has been touched with blight, disappointment, loneliness, sorrow, yet despite the context of a planned suicide and the acute and often sharply acid wit, this is a book filled with kindness, honesty, humanity, warmth, humour, good sense.

It asks questions about the purpose and meaning of life, what is a good life, what is the contribution genius should make up, what truly elevates a human being.

Studied with anecdote, fine stories, gems of portraiture and social observation, it deserves to be owned and read by every lover of literature and to remain in print for centuries. I shall leave you to discover the ending.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How do you cope with the circus of life? Go for the juggler/jugular., 4 July 2012
By 
Moonshine. "Spara Fugle" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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The greatest thing about this book is its honesty. Well you would be honest if you were planning to kill yourself, wouldn't you? This book is a mature book full of insightful funny observations about human existence. The anti-hero Joshua Bland's emotions are rather bland. It is a difficult read but very rewarding. It needs to be analysed slowly and thoughtfully. Joshua is a child prodigy whose low self esteem stems from a lack of emotional intelligence. He doesn't mean to be indifferent but he can't help himself as it is his nature. If you have a generous nature and believe that everyone is fighting some sort of battle you will have empathy with the guy in this tough autobiographical story. Many of his actions are nasty and he doesn't even want forgiveness. He hasn't lived up to his potential. The background is WWII and the witch hunts of McCarthyism but this doesn't date it as it has the universal appeal of being about the nature of human love or the lack of it. As people grow older they realize that love may grow colder. It is a long book but well worth persevering with as it contains many nuggets of wisdom. It is not 'Mills and Boom' but rather it is an American anti-American rant against the human condition. Joshua has led a fascinating life and he has coped by having a great sense of the absurd. He is one of those dark clowns that looks dangerous but is a little pussy cat. He hurts people but don't we all? This is an honest and open account of a human being. It is funny and entertaining, so don't think it is grim. At the bottom of the sarcasm and irony beats a heart of, well not gold but silver. He recognizes talent in a young girl playwright but refuses to produce her play because; 'I watched my first playwright eat himself up in 1945, shortly after I got back from the wars. I watched him change from a sweet, callow boy of near genius to a vain, self-abasing tyrannical monster.' 'He had a heart useful only for pumping blood.'
This book has echoes of Samuel Beckett, who was a resistance fighter, poet and dramatist. Beckett was very compassionate but many of his characters were not. They were insouciant towards the lives of their neighbours and weren't geranium faces. We are born, we live different lives, some good, some bad and then everybody dies of something! It's logical. Lol! It has that cold nosed realism that life is dark and mysterious, going beyond the daily fluff of polite civility that papers over the crack in everything. Books like this help the light to get in.
We get to know a lot about this guy and yet the mystery remains. It is the sort if intense writing that will reward frequent re-readings. There is a lot of poetry in it and I think it reflects a healthy cynicism about the shallow idea of the American dream; especially since one in four children in America is poor.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "EXIT, TALKING", 8 Sep 2012
By 
Mr. D. L. Rees "LEE DAVID" (DORSET) - See all my reviews
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Joshua Bland - in the 1920's child genius, a sensation in New Athens, Iowa. When one and a half he could recite the Ten Commandments, backwards. Such talents prove a lucrative source of income and reflected glory for his mother from hell.

Now it is 1959, Joshua totally messed up and planning suicide. The 558 pages comprise his final eight days of taped thoughts.

At its best the novel is brilliantly acerbic, mainly ghastly people recalled with devastating precision, their asinine utterances repeated word for word - that insufferable mother so full of pretension and lies; hard to please stepfather Pavan ("Shakespeare had a nice little talent, if he had just taken the trouble to develop it"); the poisonous first wife Letty, so adept at needling (but perceptive when declaring an ideal title for his autobiography would be "Exit, Talking" - he does that all right).

Aspects are very funny indeed - as his telling a gullible film director of trashy Biblical epics that the Dead Sea Scrolls conclusively prove Jesus had a dog, a collie. Some memories are heartrendingly vivid - he amongst the first to relieve a concentration camp. A certain sound puzzles. He realizes it is the skeletons cheering.

Unfortunately most of the recollections have far less impact. Joshua may be author of a best selling book and producer of successful plays, but behind him are failed marriages and much therapy. Somehow he has managed to alienate almost all - including the ones who showed him most kindness. Drunken and embittered, he loathes the human race - himself in particular.

I am afraid he alienated me as well with so much rambling self-indulgence, especially when pills and drink take hold. Was I alone, longing for him to stop the self-pity and finish himself off? Conscientiously I read to the very end but, to be honest, the novel which began so promisingly became an endurance test.

Thus - very mixed feelings about this one. One message, though, comes across clearly: lasting is the harm when a child is so exploited.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully stylish and literate but left me cold, 29 Aug 2012
By 
JK "Julie K." (UK) - See all my reviews
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What an odd book. I haven't encountered a central character like Joshua Bland before and I'm not sure I'd want to again. Joshua is one enormous contradiction from start to finish. Successful, powerful and charming to the outside world but dead, empty and incapable of love on the inside. He begins as a child prodigy, though suffering at the hands of an inhuman stepfather, and, over the course of his life, Joshua turns the wheel all the way round until he is himself an absentee father though an incredibly successful and powerful man. That's the whole concept; a look at the minutae of this man's life, there's nothing else here, it's all about Joshua and he's completely self obsessed. Merle Miller writes this book with a claustrophobic stillness, slowness, that emphasises this self absorption and it's almost inevitable Joshua will self destruct, commit suicide, it comes as no surprise. A Gay and Melancholy Sound is stylish and literate but it took forever to read and my main problem was; though I felt sympathy for Josh as a child by the time he's an adult I couldn't abide him and failed to bond on any level. I thoroughly respect and admire this novel, it's a one off, but lacking movement, warmth and tension which meant I'd switched off long before the end. Couldn't give a novel with this much class less than 4 stars but if I had to mark it out of five for personal enjoyment I'd give 2 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A failed life, 1 Sep 2013
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This review is from: A Gay and Melancholy Sound (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) (Kindle Edition)
Nothing gay here, just the melancholy. A sad and wasted life grippingly told as one potential success after another is twisted into failure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This is the land of lost content", 26 Aug 2012
By 
David Spanswick (Brighton United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This is a strange book by any standards and the revival of it by Nancy Pearl's Book Lust project will, no doubt, divide its readership.

The novel evokes many literary genres and and novels from Tristram Shandy ~ the construction of the narrative, though deeply calculated has a very chaotic feel to it and insists the reader keep up ~ to Proust's magnum opus (which is referred to in the book as a sign of academic ignorance in a character)A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Indeed Miller is as American as Proust is French though this book lacks the embroidery of the French masterpiece even if following its labyrinthine and time repeating and unraveling structure.

Its stream of consciousness narrative also put me in mind of both Joyce and Woolf from the classical period, the references to Carroll's Alice books is also significant.

It is too autobiography faux, a positively Victorian genre, Dickens did it on a number of occasions most notably David Copperfield. To "invent" a hero and guide him from cradle to, in this case, a suicidal end can be seen as the ultimate in control for a writer, he becomes god and can manipulate his construction in whichever way he chooses.

The book can be seen as a challenge as it is a mighty tome ( though Stephen King has certainly written longer in recent years) and the success of it will be judged by individual readers. Not knowing the history of its writing I dont know how long Miller too in the writing, editing etc but it certainly has an overwritten quality in places but then joyous passages in others. The childhood episodes for me are the most successful and feel best written.

This is not a book to take on lightly, maybe an Autumn rather than a summer read but I am grateful to Nancy Pearl for unearthing it from the forgotten bookstacks to make it available again.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The journey to indifference, 18 Jan 2013
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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Joshua Bland has chosen to kill himself, but before he goes he intends to spend a week dictating the various events which have prompted this decision. Growing up in Iowa with a self-aggrandizing fantasist mother, Bland obtains notoriety as an arrogant but vulnerable child prodigy. This childhood sets him on the path of an eventful life, and he now finds himself a lonely rich man in his forties living in a town inhabited by 'people whose faces are angry and resentful, people who look as if they'd been denied something they deserve'.

Bland is an unattractive figure who does some terrible things. He is a misanthropist ('Let me repeat that I have yet to come across anybody with a hyphenated name who didn't make me check the lock on the chicken house.') driven by both a feeling of inferiority and self-loathing. It is this self-loathing which makes him sabotage any happiness he is offered, turning his back when others try to reach out to him. Bland's savage observations make this a funny book, but it is also deeply sad: every step of the way Bland knows where he has gone wrong but is unable to change.

"A Gay and Melancholy Sound" was first published in 1961 but it feels very fresh, as Bland's voice is so strong and the targets of his anger so relevant. I am grateful to Nancy Pearl for bringing this powerful novel back into print.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Different, 28 May 2014
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This review is from: A Gay and Melancholy Sound (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) (Kindle Edition)
Hard to follow, not a bedtime read. Jumps about all over the place so difficult to follow. Not a light read
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