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on 1 July 2005
Any novel that starts with a man in his fifties in the body of a child and with this character mentioning that he will tell us a tragic story involving love and murder, will grab the readers attention. And this is what Greer does in the first couple of pages of this book. But after that he shows his ability to keep us engaged throughout the story, with a combination of an imaginative plot and a superb talent for transmitting the feelings of the main character without missing a beat in the story's pace.
There is no great availability of literary fiction in a fantastic setting, so this novel is a clear break from the ordinary. It all revolves around the narrator, Max Tivoli, who was born with the appearance of a seventy-year old man and is "doomed" to have his body rejuvenate while his mind grows old. The sum of the two ages will always add up to seventy, so he knows that by the year 1941 he will disappear. This special situation forces Max to hide his true self from the rest of the people and he tries to stick by his mother's advice: "Be what they think you are". Only a few times in his life he actually ventures to reveal his reality; probably the most important one is when he is a kid in an old man's body and meets Hughie, a child that will become his best friend for life and will share his experiences, regrets and pain, in the years to come.
And then there is Alice, a girl / woman that will cross Max's path three times in his life at different points and who is the love of his life. It is impressive to see how each of this encounters differ from one another, since even though both characters have the same age, Max's physical appearance suggests otherwise. This dichotomy in Max's life creates complex situations that help us realize what this man has to go through. An example of this is when Max meets Alice and both of them are seventeen, but it is Alice's mother who sees Max as a worthy candidate for herself, instead of for her daughter.
George Bernard Shaw once said "Youth is wasted on the young", and the author explores what would happen if that was not the case, but only for one of us. The result of exploring this topic is a novel written in excellent style and which several times in its course leaves us thinking, with our mouth open after being surprised by implications we had not considered. The setting is mostly San Francisco in the turn of the century, and the author provides the city with a life of its own, giving the story a very special flavor. I highly recommend this work to all those that like literature that makes you think and / or fantastic settings.
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on 12 February 2004
Once in a while a novel comes along where all the different facets come together to produce a piece of work that is so perfect, so literary, so imaginative and just so spell-binding in tone and quality. The Confessions of Max Tivoli is indeed one of these novels. It is a beautiful and daring feat of the imagination that reveals the world through the eyes of a "mooncalf, a changeling; a thing so out of joint with the human race." Max, who ages backwards from birth leads a life that manages to question the very nature of time, appearance, reality and the nature if love itself.
At the center of this heart-rending love story is Max who has the physical appearance of an old, dying creature. He bursts into the world "as if from the other end of life" and the days since are of "physical reversion" shrinking into the "hairless, harmless boy" who scrawls his pale "confession" has he approaches death as a young child. For Max everything is reversed – he's an adult when he is a child, and a boy when he is an old man. Alice Levy is the subject of Max's love and undying devotion. He falls in love with her when she is a young neighbour girl, and after a mistaken romantic encounter with Alice's Mother he loses touch with her. Each successive time he finds his Alice, she does not recognize him and towards the end of the story she gives him another chance at love under extremely unorthodox conditions. And as the story progresses Max's secrets are revealed to the reader in exceptionally clever and exciting ways.
Greer is in complete and utter control of his narrative. His use of metaphor, his ability to evoke natural conversation, his method of inserting a type of wry humor into the work, and his ability to describe San Francisco at the turn of the century, suggests that he is a complete master of the literary form. He effortlessly transports us to the suburbs of South Park and Nob Hill in the 1890's and early 1900's, and simultaneously plunges us into the world of ribboned bonnets, black sunshades; gas lit drawing rooms, and musty whorehouses. Max's incredibly tumultuous life, his relationship with his best friend Hughie, and his love of Alice all take place against the backdrop of the San Francisco earthquake, the horrors of the Great War, the flu epidemic, and the depression of the 1930's. Greer recreates a fabulous world full of rich detail, and loaded with emotion and fantasy. The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a remarkable and beautiful story, and you certainly won't be able to put it down.
Michael
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on 28 March 2008
I am 3/4 of my way through this book and to be honest I have been quite disappointed. The premise excited me and I couldn't wait to start it.The book is an alright read and well written but for me however it is merely a pale imitation of Nabakov's style and even the content of his work. I can pick phrases from the book that are merely reworkings of Nabakov's literary gems in Lolita. Whilst one might conclude that this is Greer paying homage to Nabakov's masterpiece it just doesn't sit well with me.
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on 19 April 2012
They say there are no new ideas and I was disappopinted to find that this is another of those books. The idea would have been clever if it hadn't already been done some years earlier in The Tale of Benjamin Button by F Scott Fitzgerald, but it has got a twist to it. Like that book, this starts as the 70 year old Max Tivoli is now recalling his life as he regresses back to babyhood. He's born an old man with a baby's capabilities and thoughts and as life progresses his body gets younger as he gets older in spirit and mental age. He goes through life, yearning for his first love Alice, and having missed out the first time, manages to meet and marry her but keeping his true identity secret for fear of rejection a second time. Reasonably well written, in first person over three sections which mirror the stages of his life, as he recounts to Sammy his son, memories of his lost life. I felt cheated that I could see the other story in it, so it spoiled some of the enjoyment.
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on 12 October 2014
I read this one just after reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum , which was interesting, because both stories begin just before the birth of the narrator. In this case, Max Tivoli. He’s born an old man of about 70, meaning he’s young on the inside, but looks old on the outside. As he ages internally, he grows younger externally. This is the story of his life. It’s well-written and interesting, tying in historical events (the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for one) and capturing the world through the eyes of a man who isn’t seen for who he is by the world.

About a day-long read, a fun and occasionally thought-provoking distraction.
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on 25 July 2005
"We are each the love of someone's life." That is the first line of this book, but Max Tivoli's love is only answered very partially. This is due to the fact that he lives backwards: he has been born in a 70-year old body that becomes younger and younger, but in this body there is a human being who becomes older like any normal person. So when he is 17 years old and falls in love with his 14 year old neighbor Alice, she only sees a middle-aged man and chooses Max' friend Hughie instead. Hughie is one of the very few people who know what's the matter with Max.
When Max reaches his natural age (35) hea again runs in to Alice and they even get married. But he does not dare to tell her that he is the Max of her youth. In the end they start leading separate lives and divorce, but when Max has a physical age of 12 he wants to see his former neighbor and wife one more time and start to search for her with Hughie, who is by now middle-aged. He finds out that he has a son who is also 12, but at the end of the book he has to leave both Alice and his son Sammie behind.
A well-written book, written as the diary of a 58-year old man in the body of a 12-year old boy who looks back at his life that he had to live as a lie (his mother has always told him: "Be what they think you are.") which made me kind of sad. A beautiful book but not as exciting as "Time's arrow" by Martin Amis, which tells the life of a man who lives backwards in time body and soul.
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