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Shadow Country by [Matthiessen, Peter]
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Shadow Country Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Length: 912 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Review

'The fiction of Peter Matthiessen is the reason a lot of people in my generation decided to be writers ... Shadow Country lives up to anyone's expectations of great writing' Richard Ford.

'Altogether gripping, shocking, and brilliantly told . . . as powerful a reading experience as nearly any in our literature' Michael Dirda, New York Review of Books.

'It's the story of our continent, both land and people, and his writing does every justice to the blood fury of his themes' Don Delillo.

'After seven years of rewriting and reimaging his 'Mister Watson' trilogy, Peter Matthiessen has produced an epic novel of the Florida Everglades, Shadow Country, a book that can be fairly spoken of in the same breath as Moby-Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for both the grandeur of its literary architecture and its command of American vernacular speech' Jonathan Raban, Guardian.

'Shadow Country's size and scope may throw down a challenge, but anyone who takes it up will only be rewarded. If this isn't a great novel, American or otherwise, I don't know what is' Jonathan Gibbs, Independent.

'I read it in great gulps, up later each night than I wanted to be, in my hungry impatience to find out more' Joseph Heller.

From the Inside Flap

Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the dawn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly towards his own violent end at the hands of neighbours. His son Lucius investigates the killing which has come to obsess him. Shadow Country traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and colour, including the black and Indian inheritors of the archaic racism that, as Watson's wife observed, 'still cast its shadow over the nation'. Peter Matthiessen's great American epic - Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone By Bone - was conceived as a single vast, mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has deepened the insights and motivations of his characters, distilling a monumental work and realizing his original vision.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4737 KB
  • Print Length: 912 pages
  • Publisher: MacLehose Press (1 July 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00480O9IW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #262,901 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 May 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is based on the true story of a Florida planter and outlaw, E.J. Watson, who was murdered by his neighbours; it was originally a trilogy and Matthiessen reworked and condensed it to produce this version. It was entirely an accident that I ended up reading this whilst in Florida, given that it's set in the Florida back-country at the turn of the century. It really seemed to add to the atmosphere, being in and around the same places mentioned in the book, smelling the mangrove swamps and seeing the Spanish moss hanging from the branches. You can even visit Ted Smallwood's store - kinda wish I had now.

It's a wonderful read, given that the entire plot hinges around an event that takes place in the first ten pages of the novel. It's still broken down in structure into three books, one that covers the murder itself and the reactions and viewpoints of those taking part in it, the other following Watson's son Lucius as he tries to discover the truth about that night, and the final book from Watson's perspective covering his entire life up to the murder.

Watson is a compelling character - given that he's really not a nice man at all, it's strangely hard to hate him. And when you come to the end of the book and the story's over (although it's over from the start for Watson) you're sad to leave him, in a way. But that's part of the strength of this book - there are no villains as much as there are no heroes, and Matthiessen manages to make you feel sympathy and understanding for almost every character, regardless of where they stand and what they've done. It's quite an achievement, but then this is quite a book.
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Format: Hardcover
I've only had this book a few days and have read less than 200 pages, but I am completely hooked. I knew nothing about the subject before reading a review in a local newspaper, and was intrigued so had to buy it. I can understand why Peter Matthiessen felt like he had to keep working on the story long after the original books were published in order to finish it off the way he wanted. The separate voice he creates for each character is so realistic and authentic that the author must have spent an awfully long time inside the head of each one. It must have been totally addictive.
Even though each chapter is written from the point of view of a different person, there is a common style all the way through that not only gets the author's voice across, but kind of shows how similar all the characters are deep down, that where they come from and how they've lived has influenced what they say and how they behave. It's an era and an area that I know hardly anything about, but the description is so good that I can see these places in my mind and I feel like I understand something about them.
I'm also really surprised at how I've been manipulated (not in a bad way) into feeling sympathy for the right character at the right time, so that each event brings out a proper emotional reaction in me. This is a real skill that not every writer has - I know I've been really disappointed in some books when they've failed to draw me in.
With the weekend coming up, I'm probably going to turn my phone off, curl up, get the coffee machine on, and finish this book. Can't wait!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book must be the ultimate in the use of the 'unreliable narrator'. Except that in this case there are dozens of narrators, all of them unreliable. Therein lie both the strengths and weaknesses of what Matthiessen clearly intended as his magnum opus.

The massive build-up of detail makes for a rich and immersive experience; by the end - if you get there - you'll feel you've spent a lifetime among these rough-hewn and violent Florida frontiersmen and women. And therein lies the problem - reading the same story three times in one enormous volume ultimately becomes too much of a good thing.

With hindsight, I wish I'd read the three original volumes when they were published, with 'natural breaks' between them.

Surprisingly, for an author who became famous for his nature writing, there are few extended descriptions of the Everglades landscape, climate and flora and fauna. That is to say, they are are frequently referred to, but always in the context of how they are of use or hindrance to the unsentimentally tough-minded locals. It's all about terse dialogue, rather than poetic flights of fancy.

And those locals - there are so MANY of them. I suspect that Matthiessens research was extensive and thorough (and effectively recycled in the guise of Lucius Watson's research in the second part of the book). It's as if he felt he HAD to bring in the back story of every single real-life person in involved in the Watson saga, to let them all speak, as it were. This may be laudable in its way, but leads to 'casting overkill'. After a while I found it difficult to form mental pictures of all the characters as they came and went with bewildering regularity.

All of which sounds like I didn't enjoy the book - which would not be true.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having just finished Shadow Country today I cannot help thinking this is one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It opens up in all its dirty violent inglory a part of the world I have rarely thought about and never visited - South Carolina and the Everglades from after the Civil War to 1910. But that is only two thirds of this trilogy. In E.J. Watson's son Lucius' account of his investigation into his father's death, Matthiessen carries on through the trenches of the Western Front into the Thirties.
I love Matthiessen's travel writing, which is how I know him, and I was worried straying into his fiction in case I was disappointed. But oh no. This epic tale is incredible. What impresses about this book is the breadth and depth of imagination to realise the details of the plot in telling in 890 pages the interconnecting stories and views of many interwoven characters in one seminal event in the opening up of distant marshy south Florida, the shooting of frontiersman farmer Watson. I loved immersing myself in the vernacular language and imagining the sights and smells of this rough band of men and women long forgotten by history. The moonshine-sozzled life lived hard and short of the cane crop, the black labour, the hogs, the young wife and the revolver. Despite the shooting being described in the first nine pages, the pace never flags and the suspense still builds to the book's very last page.
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