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3.1 out of 5 stars
3.1 out of 5 stars
The Fermata
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on 22 April 2017
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on 23 April 2017
If you are one of those many people who enjoy going out of their way to be offended then this is a book for you. With obscure lines like, “So that her heart shaped ass curve systole and diastole before my eyes.” this is going to confuse and trouble many readers.

So this isn’t what you would call orthodox fiction, but then Baker is fond of taking the odd left turn or two in his work so in that sense it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. It has a lot of his trademark insight and description and the way he breaks down and deconstructs the minutiae of the everyday can be thought provoking and enlightening, but also I can see why some people would claim this to be absolute rubbish. In a strange way with its heavy focus on onanism, sex, and many sexual fantasies it actually pre-dates internet porn addiction, making it relevant today, though I won’t pretend to believe that it’s making some deep political or sociological point about it. I mostly enjoyed this, though there were times when it dragged along. This is a random book and I suppose for me it felt like a bit like Nancy Friday & Jackie Collins teaming up with a grown up Adrian Mole to write an abstract sci-fi novel. It’s dark, creepy, surreal, outrageous, ridiculous and at times funny and most definitely not for everyone.
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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 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 August 2011
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 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 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 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 9 January 2016
Was recommended to me but I fail to see why.
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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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