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Mistaken Hardcover – 6 Jan 2011
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Of all his books, Mistaken is perhaps the most universal - funny, mysterious and ultimately moving (The Times)
Nothing less than a plangent, incisive poetic wonder of a book (Patrick McCabe, Irish Times)
The novel is so precisely written, in every detail, each syllable weighed, or so it feels that reading slowly, you find yourself watermarked by a tale you don't wish to put down, and can't bear to end . . . Two thing make this tale a stand-out read: First, Jordan's restraint . . . The other coup is the novel's structure - it is essentially an intimate revelation . . . unputdownable (Scotsman)
Written with great skill, confidence and vim . . . utterly convincing: full of subtlety, delicate, piercing prose, charming, lively dialogue and descriptive passages that are poetic, witty and acute. At times it has the pace of a thriller, yet for all its highly specific subject matter it still manages to achieve a feeling of spaciousness in which it is possible for the writer to ponder, with a bit of leisure, the definition of human nature. A fine achievement, a powerful, involving and beautifully written book about identity and loss (Financial Times)
Jordan is a fine writer (Time Out)
A powerfully atmospheric book which turns Dublin into a murky maze of madness and melancholy (Daily Mail)
Neil Jordan has a good eye for visual detail (TLS)
*** a talented writer . . . Jordan's prose is persuasive and crystalline (Metro)
Part thriller, part gothic tragedy, part comedy of manners, Mistaken also brilliantly evokes the divided Dublin of the 1960s and the trauma of adolescenceSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
Mistaken is a fine example of Jordan's writing, one that draws on the past, on childhood experiences, on growing up in Dublin in the 1960s, but it's one that, crucially, takes a distanced perspective, as if in awareness of the act of writing inevitably means creating a fiction of one's life. This is very much evident in the book's central conceit, where a young boy named Kevin Thunder, from a modest north Dublin working-class background feels that the has been living in the shadow of another person, a boy who looks exactly like him, Gerry Spain, but who has a more privileged southside upbringing. Being mistaken for someone else initially proves to be an annoyance to Kevin, but it also has its advantages, particularly when it comes to picking up the discarded girlfriends of his double. Inevitably however, the question of understanding one's true identity comes into question, both for Kevin and Gerry, as each of them come to wonder whether there isn't a third person that they have created between them.
That's very much a writer's conceit that has a number of well-known literary precedents from Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe to Dostoevsky - several of which are acknowledged in Mistaken - but inevitably, it's given more of a postmodernist spin here (which isn't exactly new either) on the question of identity and the role of the author. As such, home-grown literary giants such as Joyce and Stoker cast a long shadow over the two boys - quite literally in the case Kevin Thunder who grows up in the house next door to where Bram Stoker lived, and is haunted throughout by the shadow of his vampire creation - the division of those influences reflecting the split in the personality of two boys, made one perhaps in the author himself.
Such self-reflexive musings are interesting, but they do not become the overriding purpose of Mistaken, and Jordan finds a way to bring his own unique character to the writing with some beautiful childhood reminiscences of life in Dublin in the sixties (most of the chapter titles refer to Dublin locations). The Neil Jordan touches are there also in the obsessive dwelling on the past, memory, two halves seeking a whole and the skilful way he teases those elements out through an almost supernatural twist. Opening with a funeral, Mistake is also about Death in wider sense - the death of parents and a generation which nonetheless leave ghosts of a past that still haunt and direct the course of our lives.
Despite the clear personal input, the literary nature of the book does perhaps prevent the characters from fully coming to life, but that shouldn't be seen as a criticism, since the whole purpose of Mistaken is to examine "the inadequacies of fiction" in its creation of characters and in the dangerous pursuit of dreaming of another life. Nonetheless, the novel is beautifully written, wonderfully rich in imagery and observations, but also consistent and persuasive in its worldview and, ultimately, despite itself, even quite touching.
Mistaken begins with the funeral of Gerald Spain, once a successful author, who died suddenly in his mid fifties. Our narrator, Kevin Thunder, was frequently mistaken for Gerald in his younger days, given their strong ressemblance. Physically similar, the two men come from contrasting backgrounds, Kevin hails from Dublin's Northside, an only child whose home is also a boarding house; Gerald comes from the more affluent Southside, Palmerston Park. As Kevin's story unfolds he gradually realises that he has a doppleganger out there, a situation which can have both pros and cons.
The boys move to and fro, with chance encounters, mistaken identities in a type of macabre dance. Kevin envies Gerald's money and social class and feels like a shadow-being, perhaps some sort of vampire feeding off his double's apparent glamour. It's quite appropriate then that Kevin lives next door to the house where Bram Stoker spent his childhood. The notion of a partial existence, of a life half lived, of regrets is echoed in the presence of a shadowy figure who seems to haunt Kevin - is this a figment of his imagination or a real threat?
Mistaken is an intense novel which requires the full concentration of the reader. Even though it crosses time and continents, it remains a Dublin novel, with many chapter titles referring to different locations in the city. It's a novel about loss and regret which makes you wonder about what other lives you might have led, given a second chance. It's a very atmospheric and evocative read and one which I highly recommend.
This however, is not a book about jolly "twin" japes, more of a bittersweet affair of two boys and men whose paths cross at various stages of their lives, sometimes with devastating effect. In fact we are first introduced to Kevin at Gerry's funeral where Gerry's daughter Emily latches on to him and begs to Kevin to tell him about her erstwhile father. Their paths had diverged, for richer and poorer, Kevin in particular broadening his horizons in Europe whilst the more introspective Gerry became a vaguely successful writer but one who was unable to fight his demons. The author fabulously intertwines their stories so the boundary between the two becomes blurred and they often find themselves in each other shoes. With miles and years between them, the connection was always there but the rich boy found himself the poorer for it. Kevin was quite a difficult person to warm too (the "cold one" of the two) but his short relationship with his mother was very moving and whilst this book was often pretty much devoid of joy and humour it was heart-warming to read of him regaining his father late on.
Where this book did lose me (and a star from the rating), was the middle section. As Gerry became a writer, we were subjected to much of his work and it often crossed the line into randomness and pretension. Too many one page chapters were a bit meaningless and it was often difficult to tell who the other character in a conversation was, with Kevin only talking about or to "you" (mostly but not exclusively Emily). However, it stepped up a gear in New York and the circle was closed beautifully in the final chapters making it a genuinely moving and provocative read. (9/10)