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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 3 July 2001
It's true that this book contains extremely descriptive sexual passages and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. But call me smutty; I enjoyed it enormously - the dirty bits and the rest. I find it intruiging that on the one hand, Baker, a big, red-faced, blustery middle-aged bear of a man turns out books like this (and Vox, the book Monica Lewinsky gave Bill Clinton to excite his intrest), and then puts out scholarly items like his defence of paper-based library systems - and they're all equally readable. A remarkable book, based on a daring, schoolboy fantasy. Read it when you're alone though, or you'll go scarlet-faced.
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on 14 April 1999
Baker's earlier outings, The Mezzanine and Vox, just hinted at the porn-script writer scrambling to escape the bounds of the popular fiction imagination. Flick to the dirty bits in The Fermata and you'll be left with little. But what a little it is - I mean, what would you do if you could switch time on and off at will? Save babies from the path of oncoming trucks? Avert international crises? Maybe for a couple of days. Then you'd be peeping down people's pants just like Baker's anti-hero. You might not like all of what you read (note: I suspect the chances of this are higher if you're female) but if you've ever fantasised about anything, you'll love most of it.
Whatever you feel about The Fermata (and let's face it, double-ended dildos aren't the subject of much contemporary fiction outside of 'specialist' booksellers) don't let it cloud your opinion of Bakers back catalogue - U and I, for example is an erudite examination of Baker's personal and literary relationship with John Updike, whilst the Mezzanine is a thoughtful, hilarious and heavily annotated trawl through the minutae of a pen pusher's day.
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on 5 August 2015
The Fermata is a story about a male temp call Arno Stine who is unusually bookish and introspective – and intensely self-centered. Stine discovers the ability to stop time and he primarily uses this to undress and grope women when they are unconscious, being in ‘stopped time’. The story is provided in a matter of fact way, without any attempt by the author to judge or moralise, a point Stine takes pains to emphasise.

Stine justifies his actions by pointing out that the objects of his attentions (for they are essentially static objects he would love to sleep with) don’t usually become aware of the acts. Anyway, he generally seems to do a passable job of cleaning up the bodily fluids that he liberally distributes. In essence, Stine argues, what harm is done? He describes in close detail what it is he finds attractive about the women he abuses, and says he is genuinely fond of them. We don’t doubt that he is, in his own physically-oriented, lustful mind.

Another justification Stine gives is that the events normally occur during infinitesimally small moments of ‘real time’. However, tellingly, even this lame justification is not actually true: Stine often briefly starts and stops real time during his acts to try to elicit some kind of positive reaction or acknowledgement from the women. He seems to be craving the interaction of a real time relationship while wanting to retain the ability to strip and molest all the attractive women he sees every day.

There is no plot or character development to speak of – essentially the story is a snapshot of Stine’s current frame of mind written up as an autobiography. It includes a couple of pieces of pornographic writing by Stine that he leaves around for his targets to discover, so he can watch their reaction. These are explicit hard-core fantasies of aggressive sex acts. Interestingly, the author vindicates Stine’s view of the world to some extent through the positive reactions of one of his ‘victims’. Is the author indicating that Stine’s view of sex and women may be relatively normal and therefore acceptable?

To me, at best the book might be seen as an ironic look at a sex-crazed introvert who has difficulty in forming meaningful relationships with women. However, the story doesn’t go anywhere and it is not particularly funny - the irony is not that strong and nor is it really a farce in the way of say, Tom Sharpe. There are some faintly comical aspects to the situation - if you can somehow gloss over the glorification of molestation and gross invasion of privacy (not exactly a minor issue in today’s society). But ultimately the story lacks any real insight into anything other than male lust, so it just comes across as well written (but disturbing) porn. The writing becomes increasingly tedious, which the author tries to make up for by ramping up the shock factor.
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A fermata (also known as a hold, pause or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is an element of musical notation indicating that the note should be sustained for longer than its note value would indicate. Exactly how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor. What it refers to in Baker's novel is a period of time which his protagonist, Arno Strine, can induce during which the world stops, and only he can move around in it freely. He uses this time to undress women and otherwise indulge his sexual desires. The women concerned have no knowledge of what he does and no idea that a period of time has elapsed during which they have been in suspended animation. It isn't as rollickingly funny as it would like to be, but having said that, it isn't as offensive or creepy as you might imagine either. It is, in part, gratuitously pornographic, depicting several scenarios that he either writes about or imagines happening, or that actually do happen (in the novel that is). As those who have read this writer before will expect, he employs his linguistic gifts with great wit at times and to great effect as he writes of, for instance, "fully realised frigments of my invagination".

Obviously, this is not a book for everybody, and if you are at all nervous of sexual frankness, don't start reading - it will offend you. This is a man who is mightily respected for his detailed and dexterously knowledgeable prose. He is, perhaps testing how far he can go without upsetting his literary readership? That, or sheer exhibitionism has got the better of any natural good taste he might have once cultivated. Whether you view this as acceptable in today's climate, or still beyond the pale, will depend entirely on you.
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on 14 December 2001
I just love this book. It is clever, funny, erotic, thought-provoking and well thought-out. Those who carp about the 'hero' not becoming a better person or the author breaking his own rules are trying to dig too deep. They miss the point - it is fiction and a compellingly good read. I have had it on my bookshelves for years and return to it again and agin when I want something light-hearted.
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on 10 October 2001
Baker's book introduces us to Arno Strine, a morally ambiguous hero who is blessed with the ability to stop time in it's tracks and go about his business without interruption from the world at large.
Arno isn't interested in using this ability to help humanity, commit crime, or even to better himself; all he wants is to look at the paused women around him naked.
This set up is an interesting one and immediately asks the reader: "What would you do if you had these powers?". But whilst Baker's use of language is both evocative and provocative, the overwhelming feeling at the conclusion is one of disappointment.
Yes, Arno has undergone some (often amusing) adventures and the reader is given an insight into his character. And, of course, the erotic content is sublimely filthy (if you like that sort of thing). But, like another reviewer of this book on these pages, I find the fact that Arno doesn't become a better human being deeply unsatisfying.
So I'm giving this two stars (although if you're a fan of 'posh porn' you're more likely to rate it as 5!)
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on 20 June 2013
Like Nabokov's Lolita this book draws deliberately uneasy comedy from moral ambiguity. Arno Strine can pause time yet move freely while all around him is frozen. He uses this 'gift' to peek beneath clothing and explore other obsessive thoughts about women. It's very rude in places. Told with wit and great intelligence, the novel both charms and disturbs. Baker isn't afraid to offend, and doesn't try to 'justify' the ethical minefield of Arno Strine's actions, although he does explore the issues they raise. He is smart enough to let readers make up their own minds and urges them to consider how they would behave if they had the same ability to stop time. Hugely thought-provoking novel, but possibly an acquired taste.
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on 16 April 2000
Nicholson Bakers' novel is an impressive investigation of sexual politics. Despite extremely graphic sexual content, the book is intensely literary. Thought-provoking and intelligent.
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on 11 March 2002
If you're not aroused by this, you're unarousable. Clever, pacey, and very horny.
I bet no one who read it didn't try at least once to see if they could stop time! I've lent this book to many, male and female, all have enjoyed...
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on 2 March 2009
It was ranked as one of the funniest sex books written but for me I foun d it difficult to get into and not the slightest bit funny
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