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on 23 September 2008
Once it is known that 'The new Lehane' is in bookstores should be enough to make booklovers rush out to buy a copy. Their money will be well spent, as The Given Day is a work of art. It is much more than just an excellent book, it is fine literature. The Given Day, which takes place primarily in Boston just after WWI, is an epic story of family greed, love, power, hardship, lust, hope and politics. It tells the story of two families -- one white, one black -- swept up in the maelstrom of revolutionaries, anarchists, immigrants, ward bosses, Brahmnins, the Boston police department and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. As interesting and powerful as the plot is, Lehane's strongest accomplishment is the cast of unforgettable, true-to-life characters he has created. You'll meet beat-cop Danny Coughlin, Boston Police Department royalty and the son of one of the city's most beloved and powerful police captains. Luther Laurence, a black man on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss who works for the Coughlin family. Nora, the Irish immigrant who was taken in by the Coughlins and is the love of Danny's life, as well as many other very credible multidimensional characters. Lehane does such an excellent job in describing these characters that I felt I was right there alongside them feeling all of their joys and sorrows. In addition, Lehane expertly weaves into the story many real-life influential people of the era -- including Babe Ruth, Eugene O'Neill, leftist Jack Reed, NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois, Mitchell Palmer, Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge and an ambitious young justice department lawyer named John Hoover. The Given Day is over 700 pages of reading pleasure and a book that I most highly recommend to you. It is a masterpiece of historical fiction!
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VINE VOICEon 8 May 2009
It's been a long time since this man's last but what a way to come back.

If you like crime novels you will love this!
If you like historical novels you will love this!
If you are interested in social and political history you will love this!
If you like literary novels you will love this!
If you like a thumping good read you will love this!

Rumour has it that Mr Lehane will be writing a series tracing these themes through the twentieth century and if they are anything like this start then they'll be brilliant. Just one thing Dennis; I'm 51 and I'd like to see the finish before I peg out.

Quite why this sells respectably rather than by the lorry load really puzzles me. Forget the garbage like Archer and buy this.

The novel ends (NOT a plot spoiler, honest)with the words

"What a day. What a city. What a time to be alive."

One can only reply.

"What a book. What a writer. What a joy to read!"
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on 1 February 2009
The Given Day

I have read Dennis Lehane's crime fiction for years and was getting a bit impatient waiting for the next title. News of The Given Day upset me a bit. A historical novel not a crime fiction book. Attempts by writers to cross genres usually ends in tears, I thought.

Not this time. This book is a truly amazing piece of work. There are rightful comparisons above to Doctorow, but I would put this one up there with Dos Passos's USA and Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. It really is that good.

I'm not going to attempt to review the book. There are strong summaries in all the preceding reviews. I'm just going to say: this will probably be among the top ten books of 2009 and anyone who doesn't make the effort to read it really will be depriving themselves to an extent they don't deserve. Buy it, you'll love it.
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on 12 February 2012
This is the first of Dennis Lehane's books I have read and I came to it blind to both the author's huge success as a crime writer and to the many of his books that have been adapted into films. I had heard it reviewed on the erstwhile BBC Books Podcast and was keen to read it due to the subject involving early twentieth century immigration and political radicalism in the US.

Upon finishing the novel and searching Amazon for moreof the author's work, I was surprised to find Lehane is not a historical fiction author 'by trade' because this is a truly excellent example of the genre. The author skillfully interweaves narratives involving the two main characters, Danny and Luther, and, what I found most impressive, uses Babe Ruth as a marker for the times. Even as a Scotsman with no real interest in baseball, the towering historical/popular cultural figure of Babe Ruth immediately conjures up images in my mind of the dawn of the roaring twenties. Babe Ruth appears at the start of each section both as a signifier of the times and as an intriguing character in his own right.

The lives of the two main characters take us through the race relations and the political turmoil of the era. Danny, an Irish policeman, finds himself working undercover among political radicals and even his own workmates as the Boston Police attempt to set up a union. This was the most intriguing part of the novel for me. The subject matter is so wide ranging, dealing with the choice between capitalism and communism in the period just after the revolution in Russia and the short-lived one in Germany. Danny comes into contact with people working for the world revolution so the story takes on a global view and a Danny finds his own values challenged in a way that makes the story personal and human too.

Luther's story is equally impressive and highlights the race relations of the time. The harrassment he faces from a truly evel policeman really ratchets up the tension throughout the novel and is one of the things that keeps the reader pushing on. There are some heart stopping moments, full of action, throughout the novel but it is perhaps Luther who has the best of these.

Without wanting to give anything away, the ending is very satisfying and well handled. The Given Day is quite a chunky book but I flew through it in a few days. The prose is very easy to read. The writing is also impressive in itself. Having done a little research on Lehane after reading The Given Day, I was surprised to find he isn't given more credit for the skill of his prose. Some of his sentence structures, particularly during tense moments, are reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's in No Country for Old Men. I would argue though that Lehane uses this extremely plain style much more sparingly and with more of an impact effect. He also manages to come up with many a beautiful descriptive passage.

Overall, I was extremely impressed by this and I think there's something for almost everyone in it. Highly reommended.
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The Given Day is by far the best novel I've read that was published in 2008. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in having a keener understanding of human nature and what our priorities should be. Those who aspire to write great fiction will learn a lot by examining the plot, characterizations, story telling, and mixture of history and fiction in the book. I was formerly convinced that E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime was the best historical novel about the early part of the twentieth century in America. Having read The Given Day, I have to move Ragtime down to number two.

I have not read any of Dennis Lehane's other books so I cannot offer comparisons. I stumbled onto this one when a good friend who knows my taste in fiction recommended that I not miss The Given Day. I'm glad she persuaded me.

Normally, I'm not overjoyed to read a 700 page novel, wishing that a good editor had chopped things down to size. The Given Day is chopped down to size . . . it's just the right size for the story it tells.

There's enough material in this book for eight novels, but Mr. Lehane has brilliantly combined his powerful tale into just one double-length one. I admire that accomplishment very much.

To me, the best part of the book was Mr. Lehane's understanding that America in 1916-1919 was a lot like America in 2001-2008. By showing us a mirror of our past, we can see ourselves more clearly in the present:

--We have international terrorists who like to blow things up with plastic explosive. They had anarchists who like to dynamite symbols of authority.

--They had the influenza that killed millions. We have AIDS that kills tens of millions.

--We had runaway inflation until a few months ago that made most people poorer. They had runaway inflation that left most people below the poverty line.

--They had racism that denied opportunity to African-Americans who didn't organization. We have racism that an African-American was able to overcome by organization to become president-elect.

--Their baseball players had no security. Our baseball players who don't have a long-term contract have no security.

--Their civil servants couldn't strike. Our civil servants often cannot strike.

--Their labor movements were weak. Our labor movements are weak.

--Their politicians used public fears for personal advantage. Our politicians have done the same.

--Their immigrants disliked the newer immigrants. Our immigrants dislike the newer immigrants.

And on and on the comparisons go.

The plot is stunning in the way that Mr. Lehane is able to intertwine three characters to make his points about America in those days: Gidge "Babe" Ruth of the Boston Red Sox, Boston policeman Aiden "Danny" Coughlin, and Luther Laurence, a African-American man who would have played professional baseball if he had lived in the latter part of the 20th century or the 21st. The opening sequence involving Ruth and Lawrence is one of the inventive and interesting openings to a historical novel that I have ever read.

What's it all about? More than anything else this is a historical novel about the Boston Police Strike, an event that people still speak about in hushed tones in our fair city. With few nonstriking police and no immediately military help, Boston became a lawless and dangerous town for two days. After that, it was still touch and go in restoring order. You probably wouldn't want to read a novel about that, and Mr. Lehane has brilliantly given you a novel that also shows what it meant to be Irish in Boston, deal with the deadly influenza epidemic, track down anarchists and subversives, break strikes, form labor unions, earn a living under tough conditions, be mistreated by calculating politicians, and search for the meaning of life.

At the ultimate level, The Given Days asks the question of what our priorities should be in life . . . and the answer is to love others and to cherish our families. If there had been a Biblical element in the story, it would have been easy to see this novel as a Christian allegory with Babe Ruth as Barabbas, Danny Coughlin as John the Baptist, and Luther Lawrence as the Apostle Paul. Perhaps those references were intended to be seen by readers outside the context of religious institutions. I leave it to you to decide for yourselves on that point.

But do read this book. You'll be glad you did. It's a surprisingly fast read for a 700 page novel.
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on 9 February 2014
Another amazing book by Dennis Lehane. Aside from his first book (A Drink Before The War, which was okay), I've never read a subpar Lehane novel. The guy is in a class of his own. He can do no wrong. This is 600 or more pages -- I don't know the exact amount -- and every page is a joy to read. If you don't like Lehane by now, you're living on planet ZOG.
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And that's saying a mouthful.
With this historical novel Mr. Lehane moves even further from his early detective , thriller genre. This move started with Mystic River then a little further with Shutter Island [see my reports on both] and now with The Given Day he has totally departed from his original work. This is a heavy duty historical novel capturing without reserve a shameful period in America's early twentieth century history. Two families : one first generation bog Irish on the make immigrant white and the other not far removed from and trying to get further from black slavery are both drawn into the violent troubles of the time. Police and political corruption , rampant racism , pro and ante union factions , anarchists and urban terrorists. This is a story of a country on the edge of destruction from within.
This turbulent tale is a riveting page turner involving the reader totally with the characters. The research is thorough and detailed giving authenticity to the events. The author uses a clever device whereby the life and times of the legendary Babe Ruth , while not directly involved in the main story , serve as a glamorous contrast to the wretched life of the poor working stiff.
One of my best reads in recent years.
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on 14 September 2015
I've read lots of Lehane, he's up there with the best but for the life of me I could not get in to this book. Three times I re-read the first chapters & could form very little affinity with the characters (I know I was meant to like them...). It was a real epic but for me it lacked something, There is a great plot & a far-reaching storyline but me & it diidn't gel. I know I'm in the minority on this one but not my favourite.
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This isn't the smoothest of reads - it took a couple of hundred pages before the storylines started to really come together, and I found myself feeling a bit disappointed, as well as reading the words without taking them in at times (it's something that really irritates me about myself), but that's not to say that those pages were unrewarding - Dennis writes with very theatrical, broad strokes here, and the language he uses here is vivid and dense.

At first, I found the detail a bit distracting, and the presence of Babe Ruth a bit off-putting for some reason; I still wonder quite what he was doing here in this novel... what is his significance to Lehane? I have my theories, and I'll bore my missus with them rather than go into the details here. Once the characters started to come alive though, the operatic quality of the plot structure comes to life as well. You've got all kinds of beautifully-drawn characters here, proper heroes and villains (Dennis doesn't muck around), and as long as you're prepared to suspend your disbelief at the start, and be willing to wait a bit to get into a great story, then you'll find this book quite an immersive experience.

Ultimately, this was a story about coming to the crossroads, and making choices that define who you are. It reminded me of watching a TV series; I had to accept that it would take me two or three episodes to really get into it. It was well worth it, but regular Lehane readers should be aware that it's really quite a different type of book from his usual. I'm still thinking about it, so it's definitely been a good experience.
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on 18 August 2015
This is an outstanding novel, beautifully written, the characters come to life amazingly.It is the first that I have read by this author. It will not be the last. Anyone who has an interest in the immediate post first world war period, especially in the United States should read this work.The conditions in which the Boston Police Department were expected to accept is an eyeopener as is the bigotry and prejudice suffered by the American negro.
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