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Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A cold, literary read, 4 Feb. 2014
This review is from: All That Is (Hardcover)
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This is the first book by James Salter that I have read: I was drawn to it by the superlative reviews from authors I enjoy such as John Irving and Julie Myerson. He has been compared to Bellow, Roth, Updike all of whom I have read and admired. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was written when Salter was 87, and has been praised by several reviewers for being so sexy. Sadly it did nothing for me - in particular the frequent sex scenes are sometimes laughably bad - look out for the bakeries/ horses drinking/ lots of death analogies. It is macho stuff, is he a big Hemingway fan?
I can see that Salter writes some fine and clever prose when he is describing events, times and places but it is all so very cold and unemotional. His main character Bowman seems to pass through life with no feelings, simply recording x, y and z, he has no encumbrances. There is no real plotline as the book keeps drifting off into minor characters who appear then disappear, never to be mentioned again. In the end I lost patience and gave up. Too lofty, literary and lonely for me.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Jan 2015 02:15:52 GMT
"Literary" only in the sense, it engages with the concerns of a certain influential and prestigious part of the American literary establishment (which a great many people in this country treat with undue deference).

The novel is a soap opera with no intellectual content.

Posted on 12 Feb 2015 17:56:36 GMT
Ronald Haak says:
Re: praise for this novel (in your first sentence) from John Irving. The peon of praise by John Irving ("equals Shakespeare) is a buddy coming forward with a slap on the back and is despicable in other terms.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Feb 2015 01:25:56 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Feb 2015 01:29:52 GMT
That was a perfect review, and in all fairness, in all seriousness, I have nothing to add.

But, because this novel was SO annoying, if I were to be slightly less serious for a moment, and somewhat less-than-charitable...

I consider the high praise of this novel by critics to be a crime; indeed, I consider the novel itself to be criminally banal. As I do not expect apologies and amends from those responsible, I consider it my very grave task to trawl through the evidence so that the truth is plain for all to see.


I haven't read John Irving's review, so this is pure speculation, but for my money: the Shakespeare comparison could be, "the bit-characters don't know that they are bit-characters". That's the only slightly just comparison I could imagine. (And for me it is a worthless comparison, since I don't think there are ANY characters in the novel, they all seem too empty to deserve the word "character".)

But I came to leave my upteenth comment on this book to offer my own, equally-valid comparison: "equals Proust".

If you know, Proust is full of unexpected twists and turns, let-downs... changes in direction, false leads... He mentions the music of Chopin, and it really is a good comparison.

I can't do justice to the passages where Proust uses this technique, or at least, I can't explain how much I enjoyed reading them... how extraordinarily fresh, how full of life I found them; but it's only fair to give a couple examples for people who haven't read Proust, although like I say, in my retelling they will sound flat.

For example: once someone has decided to split up with their mistress, once they have worked their way free of the spell that this very ordinary woman has somehow cast over them, the next thing that happens, is they get married and live together happily. But (as always) the more minor, banal example better exemplifies the genius of Proust - an author where (to those who like that sort of thing) nothing is banal. Out of context, it is hard to convince, but: everytime the young Marcel goes to Gilberte's place for tea, his heart is troubled with the confused emotion that he is struggling to overcome. It gets so bad, he is ordered to see a doctor, who promptly advises him to avoid caffeine: problem solved.

So there it is. When we are sure we know ourselves, our tastes, our feelings, our decisions... our bodies... we can be far from the truth. If that didn't sound much like a Chopin Prelude... Not everyone likes Proust, nor Chopin for that matter, but if it sounds like your cup of tea, read and judge for yourself.

Now, the clumsiness and banality of Salter, as he uses this "literary" device:

They buy a greyhound. It loses; but not always. It wins; but not always.

So: the world is instable. Nothing can be predicted.

and the ultimate:

"Nude", "Nu", "desnudo": it is about the same in every language.


[stunned silence]

...Is there nothing in this world that we can hold onto? Do we ever know anything?

There, it is that last example that bought me to my keyboard, it just seemed so empty, I can't imagine any defence of it (except, that it isn't really meant to be serious: but then, what is it except a pointless gimmick, which, worst of all, draws attention to how he overuses this narrative device to such an extent that none of the shocks are ever shocking, that the novel can never move because it feels so clunky and contrived?)

It just came to me out of the blue and that I felt an impusle to share it with the world to whom Salter, and those critics, will probably never apologise for disappointing so badly.

In my very modest opinion.

(Incidentally, there are some things in this novel I think work well, but altogether I find the novel doesn't add up to much.)

Goodbye and hopefully farewell from me. But there we are: I like to back up my statements ("no intellectual content/no profundity").
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Review Details



Eric Baker

Location: London

Top Reviewer Ranking: 3,558