on 28 November 2002
I first read this book ten years ago when I was squatting in Kentish Town, and it seemed true then and it seems even truer now. Cheever knew that a novelist's job was to do several things at the same time, but he never managed it quite so sweetly until this book. Like its contemporary, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Falconer" is set in an American prison in the early 1970s. Just as Ken Kesey went to work in a prison to find an outlet for his vision of an alternative America, Cheever went to his local jail, but the results are startlingly different. All of Cheever's beautiful obsessions - with addiction, failed marriages and sexy men - come out in this book. Farragut, the hero of the novel, is an otherworldly guy for whom life has been a series of seminars and skiing trips. Confronted with himself in prison, he accepts his bisexuality and in real rhapsodic style embraces Jody, the man he hooks up with. Cheever captures the sordidness and loveliness of American life with wit and elegance and charm, and we are led through a series of bizarre scenarios to the hero's eventual redemption. It is hard to think of a more cover-breaking moment in a writer's life than "Falconer" - it is a novel that is literally lit up with the author's honesty. Hearteningly, it was also the moment when Cheever achieved visible success, won the prizes and was recognised for what he was: the natural heir to Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
on 9 January 2010
The story is a prison (melo)drama, the institute given the name Falconer. The prose (and the emotions) fly high, indeed, like the bird. A reference to Faulkner too? He also knew how to produce beautifully written melodrama.
I enjoyed it for the great writing (probably I should read decent literature more often, then it wouldn't seem such a novelty). Critics mention Fitzgerald, but I thought more of Salinger, the author's neat pinpointing of quirky psychology, sad sense of humour and deep romanticism.
The biography of the author shouldn't matter to the fiction produced and sometimes knowledge can spoil it, but I found a little information about John Cheever's personal life, did, with this work, enhance the poignancy of it.
Hope you enjoy it.
on 29 January 2009
Although highly recommended by Esther Freud's book group - I read it in a magazine, she did not call me up! - some of my own group were fairly resistant to the idea of Falconer, set in a prison and about a drug addicted man who had murdered his brother. It was hardly going to be a barrel of laughs to chase away the January blues. But hey, it turned out to be a great success with all but one of our group (who didn't get it at all). It is beautifully written, full of humanity and extremely moving. And there are laughs, too. It will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended by me now, as well as Esther.
on 15 December 2009
What I so like about this book is that, although set in an awful situation in terrible surroundings, it radiates love to every side and makes life seem effortlessly worthwile even there. I tend to avoid 'older' books, but this one is superb and I read it in one go, as it gives the feel of being written in one go as well.