on 9 August 2009
Have spent my weekend reading this, Anne Tyler's 18th novel and can say without doubt that it is one of the most beautiful, gentle novels I have ever read. A long time fan of Tyler's work, my expectations were high and were definitely met. The main character, Liam, is a gentle, bewildered man who invites great sympathy from the reader. At the beginning of the story, he is going through a time of great uncertainty in his life, having lost his job and downsized to a rather seedy apartment. His circumstances worsen when he is attacked by an intruder the very first night he spends in his new home. I won't take time retelling the story, but in short, he is more traumatised by the fact that he cannot recall the incident than by the physical attack, and sets about finding a rather novel solution to his memory problems... In the course of his search he meets Eunice, a delightfully eccentric woman, whom he is immediately drawn to. What follows is a lovely, meandering tale, which is both entertaining and also touching. Liam is constantly brow beaten by his (mainly dreadful) female relatives - his daughters, ex wife and sister and is generally treated with contempt by all except his teenaged daughter who stays with him during a difficult time. The conclusion to the novel is, although, not entirely satisfying, quite fitting. I was so sorry to reach the end, and Liam will stay with me for quite some time. Another magical tale from Anne Tyler, master storyteller and observer of human nature.
on 7 September 2009
Like most of Anne Tyler's books, Noah's Compass was gently written and uncomplicated. No postmodern literary gimmicks for her, thank goodness. Just a straightforward story with a few surprises, and with eccentric characters who probably live down the street.
I love the way Tyler takes everyday happenings and makes the reader realize that nothing is really insignificant, that everything has meaning or value.While reading the book, you hardly realize the layers of character development that she has woven into the story. Her observations of the human condition are always so on-target, but she never makes judgments about what she sees.
The story is a year in the life of Liam Pennywell, sixty years old, who has just lost his teaching job. Liam has been widowed and divorced and has three daughters, so he lives in a world of women, most of whom he cannot comprehend! He is a drifter in the sense that he just lets life happen to him without doing much about anything. Not that he is incompetent, but he just prefers to "go along". Until his first night in his new and smaller apartment when something happens to upset his equilibrium. Tyler works her magic and Liam, while not transformed, at least broadens his approach to life.
While this will not rank up there with A Patchwork Planet, my very very favorite of Tyler's, it certainly was well worth reading and provides lots of food for thought. I am always astounded that her sweet and gentle books keep me thinking about them for so long afterwards.
I am in the U.S. and I have no sense of deferred gratification when it comes to this author's books, so I bought it last month from the UK.
Being familiar with the area of Baltimore where Tyler's books are all set makes her books even more enjoyable. A pivotal scene in this book took place in Eddie's, an upscale grocery store that I often visit on N. Charles Street....in fact, Charles Street is often mentioned.
Here are three quotes I wrote down while reading...just so well-said by Tyler, with such economy. Other writers would/could have taken pages to say essentially the same thing:
<<<Damian had the posture of a consumptive - a narrow curved back and buckling knees. He resembled a walking comma.>>>
<<<She collected and polished resentments as if it were some sort of hobby.>>>
<<<All along, it seemed, he had experienced only the most glancing relationship with his own life. He had dodged the tough issues, avoided the conflicts, and gracefully skirted adventure. "I just don't seem to have the hang of things, somehow. It's as if I've never been entirely present in my own life.">>>
The fact that I have read 11 of Anne Tyler's 18 novels suggests that I think highly of this fine author. She is one of the few writers whose books I pre-order and then devour, putting everything else aside for a few days, and then finding that for the next two weeks or so her characters keep coming back to me.
Noah's Compass was no disappointment, being up there with the best of Tyler's work. The book focuses on another troubled man, recently retired Liam Pennywell, a teacher of classics who has been recently let-go in a down-sizing exercise. He feels the need to simplify and down-size his life and moves into a small apartment where on his first night disaster happens and Liam ends up in hospital with gaps in his memory.
On his release, his family are remarkably unsympathetic to his quest to remember what happened. They all have their own concerns and "do their duty" in visiting and phoning, but simply don't have the time or inclination to help Liam work through his worries. And then he meets Eunice, a much younger woman who works as a "rememberer" for an elderly businessman who is losing his own memory (and every Tyler book features at least one career you've never heard of before!). Through chance meetings, Liam strikes up a relationship with Eunice and for a while they both help each other unpack the difficulties of their lives.
At the end of her book, Tyler leaves us with unresolved questions, but also with a sense of hope. Life never comes in neat packages, and yet the solutions to one stage, often lead to a more creative approach to the problems of the next. We leave Liam Pennywell with much greater understanding of his difficult nature, but also a sense of acceptance that "this is how he is", and a feeling that things are going to work out for him.
Tyler is a deeply humanistic writer who depicts the complexities of the human condition while making no attempt to judge or comment on what she sees. We see people follow the tracks laid out for them, and the way these often appear to be dead-ends. Her characters get "stuck", unable to move on, trapped in other people's disappointments and their own sense of failure. And then Tyler works her magic, healing and redeeming through relationships, which often unexpectedly come into her characters' lives in bizarre ways and casting a whole new light on her cast-list.
Tyler understands family more than most. In real life, we know that families are rarely supportive, being beset by sibling rivalry and parental criticism. The cast list in Noah's Compass provides plenty of this, with ex-wives and grown-up children all expressing misguided opinions and offering inappropriate advice, with only adolescent Kitty accepting her Dad for what he is.
Noah's Compass will not disappoint Tyler fans and would make a good starting point for anyone who has not read her before.
on 25 November 2010
I totally agree with all those who gave this book a negative review. Anne Tyler is my favourite author and I have read every one of her novels, but this one left me very disappointed and flattened. It is, as another reviewer said, worrying to think that maybe she has now reached the stage of churning out novels to satisfy her publisher. I would rather wait ten years for a novel of the standard of her early greats, than read something as thin as this. I couldn't relate to any of the characters, and the plot was neither convincing nor absorbing. If you want to enjoy Anne Tyler start with her early novels and by the time you have worked through them she may have come up with another masterpiece.
on 22 September 2010
Thought this was going to be a great Anne Tyler novel but for me it didn't quite make the mark. Started off well but the twist (a gentle one I should have foreseen, but didn't!) dampened it down somewhat. Although I read it, every word, right to the end and did enjoy it, I was left feeling flat rather than uplifted as I am by most of her books. Good, but not brilliant.
on 25 November 2010
I am a fan of Anne Tyler's writing. I like her style and her insightful characterisations. However, I do find her plots sometimes a little contrived and a little thin. This one started out very strongly then petered and trailed off. It lacked any satisfying revelations or reversals. Much is explored but little is resolved and we are rather left dangling. It's a good book, engrossing, well written and is always and worth a read so long as you are a fan of gentle fiction and aren't expecting too much-- but probably not one of Tyler's better offerings.
Liam Pennywell has been made redundant from his teaching job at the age of 60. He needs to economise so he moves to a smaller apartment further out of town. He wonders if losing his job is a sign that it's time to move on to "the final stage, the summing-up stage".
This is the opening of Anne Tyler's 18th novel. Like all her others, it is set in Baltimore. Although Liam has lived alone for some years following the end of his second marriage, this novel is about his past and present relationships with other people, his family and others. This is familiar territory for those like me who have read a lot of Anne Tyler's other work.
As in her other novels, the story of Noah's Compass is gradually built up, it is a quiet, reflective novel about thoughts and feelings rather than a fast paced action-packed novel. Liam deals with what is happening to him by trying to focus on the positive side of it - paring down his possessions to prepare for the move is a chance to simplify his life.
Liam is proud of his memory but just after the move he wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of the knock on the head which caused him to be there. This does worry him and he sets out to find out. The loss of his job, the move and the gap in his memory force him to realise he is lonely, and he begins, very hesitantly, to re-establish relationships with his daughters, two adults and a 17 year old. His conversations with his family are often quite amusing and rather sad at the same time, as it becomes very clear that it is not just being hit on the head that is his problem, perhaps there is rather a lot he doesn't know.
He is attracted to a younger woman because she seems to be someone who could help look after him, and a friendship, then a relationship slowly develops. But is there more to dowdy but caring Eunice than meets the eye? The Eunice storyline is important, but I didn't like it that much, I had been drawn into the book enough to care about Liam and to think that there was something not quite right, that the romance didn't convince me. I was much more interested in reading about Liam re-establishing relationships with his three daughters, particularly teenage Kitty who comes to stay with him after lots of fights with her mum.
I found this story of Liam's first year of this new life a curiously absorbing read, and would recommend it to those who like this kind of quietly reflective, thoughtful fiction.
Anne Tyler is a great novelist and this is a beautifully constructed and observed book. But on reflection I think it ranks slightly lower than her absolute classics such as 'Morgan's Passing', 'St Maybe' and 'Digging to America'. The main character, Liam Pennywell, is a teacher, forced to retire, who decides as a result to downsize everything in his life, retreating into his shell (for example, at one point imagining he might be able to make his current batch of clothes last until he dies: but he's only sixty!).
As it is an Anne Tyler book, of course events conspire to bring Liam back out of this retreat into himself. There is such truth and sweetness in all of Tyler's observations about human nature, and that always makes her books worth reading. But the book focuses very tightly on Liam himself; there is a romance that didn't turn out very satisfactorily; and the ending I thought was a bit hurried.
One of my favourite bits was the relationship between Liam and his fundamentalist Christian daughter, which is always awkward, yet has touches of love. Liam also has some wonderful conversations with his little Christian grandson, who asks awkward questions about why Noah let all the other animals on earth drown, and how he steered the boat (hence the book's title). I wished I could have read a whole book about this relationship.
Anyway, a lovely book, fairly short, 280 pages, and with large print, can be finished in just a few hours of reading. A very suitable order for mums, grandmas and other readers of excellent family fiction, and for anyone who wants to understand human nature better. (And for those who feel they have watched too much crime TV lately, Anne Tyler's fictional Baltimore makes a positive change from the city as depicted in 'The Wire'...)
on 14 July 2012
I have read a lot of Anne Tyler's work, and bar one other, have loved them all. So I was really looking forward to Noah's Compass. Oh how disappointed I was. Superficial and boring. It seemed to lack the depth of characterisation of her earlier work, and I just couldn't warm to Liam or his plight. I would still recommend Anne Tyler as an author, but steer clear of her later books. She appears to have gone off the boil.
on 8 November 2009
I'm one of the many male fans who - I hope - help dispel the idea that Tyler is writing only for females with a romantic disposition, and this novel is a great demonstration of the fact that her imaginative reach operates just as effectively when worked through a male lead.
Liam Pennywell must now rank as one of her most memorable characters. His story unfolds with Tyler's usual beautiful descriptions of human interaction in a world populated by her trademark and oddly-named Baltimore folk (where previously we've had Binky's and Macon's, here we have Bard's and Bundy's.)
Superficially, her stories can appear too down-homey to be taken seriously, but, in fact, Tyler deliberately uses that style to disguise the depth of her insights, many of which take her characters and readers by surprise.
This story also lets Tyler take some mild-natured but laugh-out-loud digs at the Christian faith as practised through its born-again followers.
With so much originality in its 277 pages this book provides an extremely rewarding read.