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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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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 20 June 2017
excellent stuff - have recommended to others
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on 16 June 2016
book was much too big. my own fault should have checked how many pages
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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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on 11 June 2016
Boring what a let down from one of my favourite authors
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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 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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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 21 February 2010
I think THE GIVEN DAY has been described as 'a sprawling epic, the Great American Story' by some observers, but that's rather over-stating things in my opinion. Structurally it's not a million miles from an earlier Lehane Novel Mystic River, insofar as three male characters based in Boston have a coming-together of sorts. For me, the main observation I would make - and I had sky-high expectations for this having just read the outstanding MYSTIC RIVER - is that it's a novel to appreciate, to enjoy and to respect for the quality of the writing, but not one to love or adore for the story as a whole.

One of the three central characters is American baseball icon Babe Ruth, and having closed the final page I'm unconvinced as to why he needed to feature so prominently, to occupy so much page space. His contribution was kind of at odds to the rest of the story, it was mildly interesting but with the benefit of hindsight I don't think the story would have suffered without a mention of him. I waited for a big revelation or sensational end to his contribution but it never happened in the way that I had hoped. The most thought-provoking point, however, in this tale that has strong undertones of racism and white supremacy, is that if it had been possible to have had black baseball players back in that period (just after the First World War), then it's likely that Babe Ruth would never have reached the heights that he did. That might come as a shocker to the millions of Americans who idolised him for most of the last century.

The other two primary characters in the tale - white police officer Danny Coughlin and black servant Luther Laurence - are far more interesting in their very different ways, and if the story has a heart and a soul, then it probably belongs to Luther.

The central theme to this novel is the Boston Police Department strike of 1919, and I assume that this is an event that took place in reality rather than a fictional creation on the part of the author. Danny is a police officer whose father is a prominent police captain, and a very interesting side-story is the father-son relationship that is tested as Danny, much against his original career objectives, not to mention his powerful father's wishes, becomes something of a union leader representing a force that at that time had no defined union of its own. He becomes embroiled in a battle of wills against first one and then a second police commissioner, the reader inevitably siding with Danny in the light of the financial exploitation of police offers in those days, whose wages had not risen at all in more than fifteen years and were earning markedly less than some in more mundane and much safer occupations. An interesting topic of the times was that of terrorism, one that I would not have associated with the Boston of nearly a century ago, but there were terrorist cells operating in the city back then - at least in this novel - with labels such as Russianites and Bolshevikis. In the earlier part of the tale, Danny's role is that of an undercover agent faced with the task of obtaining what today we term 'intelligence' surrounding who the enemies are and exactly what they plan to do next.

Occupying similar page-space in a seven-hundred-page novel that spans a little over one year is Luther Laurence, who goes on the run following an event that could lead to his execution by fair means or foul. He ends up working in the Coughlin household in Boston, makes friends with Danny but longs to be re-united with his wife and family back home. His story is very different to Danny's and, criminal though he is, it's the more moving of the two and if anything he's the character the reader might be more inclined to root for.

Should you buy this book? Well, yes I must say that it's a very good book and whether you're familiar with Lehane or not then that advice applies both ways. It's full of fantastic prose, in fact that is what I will remember it for the most. It's not consistent, as he does tend to ramble a bit at times, but when Lehane's at his best, as he is on countless occasions throughout this tale, he is absolutely superb. His ability to describe a person, a relationship or an environment - not least his portrayal of life in Boston in 1919 - are second to none, and sometimes a single page or two can be truly magical in its imagery and scope. I suppose the reason I can't give the novel five stars is because the sum of its many outstandingly well drawn parts doesn't quite make for an equally satisfying whole - if I could I would give this 9 out of 10, or 4.5 stars, because it IS very good; my head gives it 5 but my heart gives it 4. It could just be that non-American readers might not be as connected to the issues central to this tale as those from its heartland might well be, especially those of more advanced years. In the end, the overall story is lacking in true impact but the way it has been written and some of the character details are, for the most part, magnificent, moving and admirable.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Just to add that THE GIVEN DAY is in the early stages of production as a film, which will mean that four of Lehane's last five novels have made it to the big screen (after Mystic River [2003] [DVD], Gone Baby Gone [DVD][2007], and Shutter Island [2010]).
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on 11 May 2009
On any given day, most any author can turn out a good book. But it's the great authors who consistently turn out great books. (I'll forgive Lehane for Shutter Island).

This book was obviously a labor of love for Lehane and I believe that he grew up hearing these stories of Bostonian history at the feet of his grandfather. In doing some research on Lehane, I read that he is the son of a union man, which explains a lot about this book and his desire to tell this story. As the daughter of a union man myself, I can totally relate to this. Whether or not you believe in unions, I think Lehane put the question out there quite masterfully by relating the story of the Boston Police strike of 1919.

To call this strike a moral dilemma would be an understatement. You have a police force who was underpaid at a time when the cost of living had gone up over 70%. On top of that, many times they were forced to sleep at the station which was filthy and pest infested. Other laborers were living well post WWI, yet no one would give these civil servants the time of day. When the possibility of joining a union came to fruition, it seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally these workers would be paid equal pay for what they did. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be and a strike ensued causing civil mayhem throughout the streets of Boston. So the real question then became, "Do those in charge of the safety of the public have a right to strike"?

That is the underlying story of Lehane's novel. But the real story, behind the story, is one of the loss of innocence. We meet Danny Coughlin, a young cop in Boston's North End, who realizes that his father, a police captain, isn't as aboveboard as he always thought him to be. We're also introduced to Luther Laurence, whom we first meet on the baseball field with none other than Babe Ruth. He gets involved with some shifty people in Oklahoma and his innocent world comes to an abrupt halt. On top of that, we have a government that promises fairness and equality above all else.....that's an eye opener to all those innocents in 1919. Are the unions the only thing that can possibly bring equality to these people? This is a question Lehane asks but does not answer. You be the judge. Danny Coughlin's official age of innocence will come to an end when he believes the union is the answer and leads his men on a journey that will show them there is no innocence but only guilt in the eyes of an ungrateful and corrupt city.

This year (1918) that Lehane chooses to portray ( the year leading up to the Boston police strike) is one strife with so many bad occurrences. Lehane covers them all.....an economically destroyed country post WWI, domestic terrorism fraught with anarchists and the Spanish flu pandemic just to list a few. He threw so many events into this book that I was surprised he didn't have someone singing Irving Berlin's God Bless America which he wrote in 1918. I love reading these historical fiction novels especially when they're about events in history that I had little or no previous knowledge.

This is an epic novel about political and social upheaval and the right of the haves and the have nots. I've heard that this was meant to be part of a trilogy so it will be interesting to see if this pans out. It's not lost on the reader that there were so many parallels to today's political and social problems. It reminds me of the words in Corinne Rae Bailey's song, "Put Your Records On"...."the more things seem to change, the more things stay the same".

So once again, Lehane hits it out of the ballpark. Which reminds me....I didn't enjoy the Babe Ruth sections of the book. Like his friend George Pelecanos, he can't help writing for men and I guess this was his shout-out to all the baseball fans out there....especially the Red Sox ones.
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