- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprints edition (7 May 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0330480502
- ISBN-13: 978-0330480505
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.9 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 859,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Waxwings Paperback – 7 May 2004
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Jonathan Raban's Waxwings is a canticle for the late 1990s told through the intertwined lives of several Seattlites. In the novel, the city becomes a microcosm of America at the turn of the millennium, and Raban's characters--all in some way tragic "tourists" in the world--are rendered with a compassion that redeems their personal failings.
Thomas Janeway is a British novelist and professor of literature at the University of Washington whose life is coming apart in his adopted home. He deeply loves his four-year-old son, Finn, but his wife, Beth, is caught up in the dot-com explosion, and the couple has grown apart. As Seattle erupts in the WTO riots and terrorist plots, Janeway's life crumbles around him. His wife leaves him, his house becomes a shambles of half-completed reconstruction and his son is caught fighting in school. When he becomes a "person of interest" in the abduction and possible murder of a local girl, he is put on leave with pay from the university. Yet, Raban does not let Janeway--or any of his characters--wallow in self-pity. They all try to move forward with life, and even Janeway "the suspect" finds sympathetic allies in surprising places.
At one point in the novel, Janeway lectures his students on the "generosity" of VS Pritchett, saying that the writer believed "in a general redistribution of verbal wealth, in taking good lines from the haves, and giving them to the have-nots". This "liberal realism" also characterises Raban's work. Raban treats all of his characters, from Janeway to Finn, with patience and balance. He fully inhabits each and tells fragments of the story from the perspective of Beth, Tom, Finn and even Tom's illegal-immigrant contractor, Chick. One narrative infuses another, lending the novel a Dickensian universality. Together the disparate voices perfectly capture the particulars of a place, Seattle, at a unique moment in American history. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A tour de force. . . . In its comedy and melancholy appreciation of the human predicament in the new millenium, this novel goes a long way toward making it bearable." --"The Washington Post Book World ""A generous, affirming novel. . . . Terrific." "--The New York Times Book Review""A keenly observant, ironic, yet at heart sympathetic exploration of what America has promised and provided." --"Chicago Tribune""[D]exterously tacks between tragedy and comedy. [Raban's] representations of materialism and the dot.com working environment are dead-on, and his descriptions of the hopes and fears of parents and spouses are heart-rending." --"St. Louis Post Dispatch""Stylishly smooth, descriptively compelling and tragically funny. . . . This is Seattle as Dickens might describe it." --"The Seattle Times" ""Waxwings" . . . is hugely satisfying; buzzing with life from Seattle's dotcom industry, sharpened by domestic intrigue and then alarm as the protagonist's life begins to fall apart." --"Independent on Sunday" "The best novel yet about the dot-com era. . . . Raban's snapshots . . . are fall-over funny. [He] nails our short-lived intoxication and hints at the hangover to follow." --"Time Out NewYork" "Raban's pages . . . sing with dazzling phrases and fresh insights." --"Seattle Post-Intelligencer" "Sharper (and a lot faster) than The Bonfire of the Vanities, [Waxwings] may well be one of the best accounts ever written of an American era." --"Kirkus Reviews" (starred) "It's a testament to Raban's control that he can integrate personal and public catastrophes so deftly in this witty novel. . . . He prods us to consider that we're living in a periodthat makes us all somehow foreigners." --"Christian Science Monitor""Raban's views, ironic and humane, are always acute; always illuminating. His prose - agile, musky, particular - is a treasure." --"The Guardian "(London) "Marvelous. . . . As with [Tom] Wolfe's extravaganzas, Waxwings teems with juicy, funny characters emblematic of their time and place . . . but, unlike Wolfe, Raban knows how to bridge the gap between the broad social canvas of satire and the interior life of delicate rounded characters." --"Entertainment Weekly" "Waxwings has great amplitude and intelligence . . . a wide-ranging, pungent, sharply observed novel." --"Raleigh News Observer""A delicious social comedy . . . "Waxwings "is also an elegant meditation on immigrant America." --"The" "Boston Globe""Generous, funny and beautifully written . . . Waxwings is extraordinarily rich and expertly paced and arranged. The social range of the novel is enormous; the characterizations acute. Every character, however incidental, has a voice." --"The" "Columbus Dispatch""Raban's specialty is the sly, unsparing metaphor and jarring observation, and he's at the top of his form in Waxwings. Yet he perceives his adopted homeland without American Beauty-style snarkiness or intellectual dispassion a la DeLillo, displaying instead the compassion and bracing honesty of an ambivalent lover." --"Village Voice Literary Supplement ""Waxwings" "stimulates the reader both emotionally and intellectually, gently tapping at the funny bone while giving us characters we care about. . . . It is a solid example of contemporary literature: entertainment with a message about modern society and themodern individual." --"The Orlando Sun-Sentinel ""Imagine Evelyn Waugh with a social conscience and, perhaps, a tad more humanity. . . . Enormously pleasing. . . . Wonderful fun, as lively as anything out there." --"The Hartford Courant "See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
It's set in Seattle at the turn of the millennium, and tells the intertwined stories of two immigrants -- comfortably-off, Hungarian-English academic Tom Janeway, and illegal Chinese immigrant Chick. Their contrasting experiences give Raban the opportunity to leap from glitzy dot-coms and paper millionaires to slummy docklands and homeless people's encampments, showing his usual empathy with a wide range of people and environments. In some ways, it's reminiscent of David Lodge, but Raban's writing is more sensitive and his characters more rounded. The way he builds up relationships between his characters is utterly convincing, and at the end, without any drama, or anything really being resolved, you get a feeling that there is some kind of epiphany in both Tom and Chick's lives. And it isn't till the last page that you find out why it's called Waxwings! The last two paragraphs are simply beautiful.
It's not his best book, but I stayed up late to finish it. First of a series of three, so I look forward to the rest -- but knowing Raban's pace of writing I will have to be patient ...
Set in Seattle in the dotcom boom of 1999-2000, the main character is Tom Janeaway, who is surrounded by a series of other mainly male supporting characters - Chick the Chinese immigrant, Detective Nagel, the opportunistic novelist David Scott-Rice, the lawyer Hamish McTurk, Tom's son Finn. There's also his partner, Beth.
As I start to write down the list of characters I realise that much of the pleasure of the book springs from Raban's ability to evoke a broad cast of characters - and to bring to life their fumbling attempts to connect, interact and (to coin a dotcom sort of phrase) transact. One peculiar gift Raban has is for describing people's smiles.
Much of the writing is vivid. There's a scene when, soon after separating from his partner, Tom decides to take up smoking again:
"There was nostalgic pleasure in disrobing the box of its cellophane wrapping and tweaking the foil covering aside to expose the triple-banked, cork-coloured muzzles of the cigarettes."
The principal characters are not Mr and Mrs Average. Tom is a university literature specialist who does regular radio talks. He's also overseeing an unlikely creative writing project for a man with money who is always in the air. Beth, Tom's wife, is a high flier in high tech. She works for a Seattle start-up dot com that's trying to bring navigable reality to an increasingly virtual world. She's the type that gets paid in options, optionally, despite working every minute of her life. Their little boy, Finn, named in recognition of Irish links, survives the careering whirlwind of the parental environment extremely well. It's easy to imagine the organised chaos of their old-style house, no doubt deliberately chosen for something Tom and Beth agreed to label character.
Chick is Chinese. At the book's start, he has successfully stowed away in a trans-Pacific container aboard a ship being piloted into dock. Others in the black interior have died en route, the rest captured by immigration officials. But Chick is resourceful and motivated. He survives, a keen if illegal immigrant, prepared to make a life for himself. His pithy existence admits no free time. His devotion to self-advancement is tunnel-vision complete, even if it means occasionally eating out of trash cans.Read more ›
However, I can't be remotely charitable about this novel which is a lazy, self-indulgent narrative that should never have been published.
It is set in Seattle at the turn of the millennium and brings together two immigrants to the US - an illegal Chinese and a legal Englishman.
The reader is supposed to believe that, within a few days of his arrival, the Chinese is running a business in which a group of Mexicans carry out repair work on the homes of affluent Americans.
While the Chinese is, at least, doing some real work, the Englishman is a useless academic at a minor college contributing nothing to his new homeland.
He is quaint as joke Englishmen in the US always are. He describes a detective as a "good egg", quotes Swift, Shakespeare and all those other old bores and tells his son - called Finn, incidentally - bedtime stories about a nasty character called Mr. Wicked whereas his politically correct American wife does not want the boy to eat sweets or watch too much television.
Other "characters" include an alcoholic English writer who is trying to get our hero's college to pay for him to make a reading tour of the US and a mysterious millionaire Indian business tycoon who is constantly flying and communicates by mobile phones which always break down so our hero never knows what he wants.
These - and other characters - flutter in and out with no purpose other than to fill pages.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
His portrayal of the place and time couldn't be more accurate. It was bizarre in Seattle then, with the dot-com insanity. Much of his portrayal may come off as exaggerated for effect to anyone who wasn't here at that time, but it is dead-on.
Raban's apparent intent to comment on our relationship to the environment at times seems preachy and simplistic (we throw away useful things - yeah no kidding!). He also seems to be trying to convey that we don't know how to make houses, homes or families and are otherwise fumbling around. The waxwing passage is a good analogy, not of the real world he was trying to portray, but of the world he actually portrayed. It is far too simplistic to say we're just flying around in nomadic bands stripping away all the berries and flying away. It seems like a lesson that would be conveyed in a child's book. I hope that the next three books reflect more of the complexities of our relationship with nature, because there is nothing original in what he is saying.
That said, I found the story on its face fascinating, especially the portrayal of Chick. Living here, I see people like him, I have hired people like him, but I have often wondered how they got here, how the survive, where they go at night, and what their motivation for coming here was, and how they see us. It is impossible to answer these questions for illegal immigrants as a whole, of course, but I was riveted by Chick.
I don't feel that I yet know Chick or Tom. When I finished the book, not knowing that more are planned, I was dissapointed. All those pages, just to get clobbered over the head with that waxwing passage? But I am now eagerly awaiting the next books.
I'd recommend this as entertainment. I'm hoping that the themes will be further developed as the story progresses and that the work as a whole will be more than just entertaining.
This is the first book I've read by Mr. Raban, and on the basis of a few of the lukewarm reviews posted here, I can only assume that he previously wrote for a different type of audience.
Waxwings is great literature: a fascinating incarnation of "the great American novel" and a more appropriate recipient of all the buzz The Corrections received. The story is engaging and unpredictable; the writing flawless, elegant, acrobatic, funny, and well worth studying.
I bow at your feet, Mr. Raban: I'd like to send you a dozen roses. (Every page is a wonder, but I was particularly moved by the interaction of the very true-to-life boy and his goofy dog. It reminded me of the snippets of inspired dialogue in Mill on the Floss.)
Is the beginning slow? I'll come clean. I didn't warm to the heavy boat talk in the first eight pages, but after that I couldn't put the book down.
The story wanders through the first half of the book, and the plot goes here or there without any guide map. Is it about Tom's relationship with the Chinese roofer? Is it about his relationship issues? Is it about the fateful walk he takes? The reviewers didn't seem to know either, and I don't blame him. At the end of the book, I didn't know what it was about, and couldn't easily explain what had happened.
Does it matter? No. Tom felt real to me, and Raban didn't let his beautiful prose get in the way of the story. After a hundred pages, I knew I wanted to read it to the end, and at the end, I felt happy with the ride. What else do we expect from a novel?
Things happen.... life goes on for forty-somethings living in Seattle at the turn of this century. Jonathan Raban's well-written prose describes America from an insider's view...well sort of.
The main character, an English creative writing professor, Tom, lives in Seattle with his American multi-tasking computer-boom, upwardly catapulting wife, Beth. Their child, Finn, is four and three quarters years of age.
Things aren't going that well for the couple. Not only are they no longer seeing eye to eye, they are not really seeing each other any more.
Beth: "It was his unplaceablity-or as she saw it now, his existential vagueness- that had so attracted her when they first met. He was like no-one she had ever known. The trouble was that after eight years Beth still had days when she didn't quite know who Tom was."
Tom: "It was an encounter blessedly without consequence. The woman was married; and even if she hadn't been, her unsettling likeness to Beth would have put her safely out of bounds. But the uncomplicated airiness of their exchange gave him an inkling, a glimmer, of a life still hidden from his view."
The book's descriptive flourish drives the story, and the internal machinations of the characters help the reader along. The cast of diverse characters saves this timely but occasionally shallow recounting of the contemporary atmosphere. The characters become our familiars, our friends. Serendipitously, they meet (or almost meet) each other, at various points in the story. Their interactions with each other retained my interest with good, believable dialogue
The contrast of these folks, with their diverging thoughts, compulsions, emotions and actions breathes life into the story. Meet Chick, an Asian, illegally working in construction while learning the lay of the land. Shake hands with the hard-boiled cop/screenwriter, Paul Nagel. Get a load of the crew at the dot com office when it's spiraling upward. Thankfully, the characters keep the somewhat implausible subplot of Tom becoming a suspect in child abduction from miring this novel in the mud.
Jonathan Raban's previous readers are guaranteed delight. Readers new to this English author residing in America will see why he keeps writing, and why we keep reading him.