Top positive review
8 people found this helpful
on 20 September 2012
This book is epic in vision, ambition and size (673 pages of relatively small type in my edition). And a few days ago I very much doubted that I would hit my target of reading a book a week, but I finished it today, having spent all of yesterday reading. I did read the Lord of the Rings in two days (and all through one night), so I suppose finishing Winter's Tale wasn't a complete surprise. Whether I would have finished this book without the challenge is questionable. I might have given up, which would have been a shame as the book is worth the effort, I am grateful to my challenge for keeping me reading.
The book ranges in time from the late 19th century to the eve of the 21st. It is set in a fantasy New York, heaving with the poor dying in their hovels and gangs of thugs, overseen by hugely powerful newspapers and their magnates, full of energy, hope and despair. As someone who has never been to New York and who is unlikely to go, I felt that I missed a lot of the book's richness. There is a rave review from the New York Times review link here which gives you a New Yorker's take on the book.
The description on Amazon (above) is misleading. Peter Lake may be the main character of the book, but he disappears for the central part of it, and the love story with Beverly although enchanting is actually a minor part of the book. With Peter Lake removed from the story, the focus shifts to a larger cast of characters. Don't expect subtle characterisation in this book. With the exception of Peter Lake and the elderly newspaper owner Harry Penn, Halprin's characters are symbols, vehicles for forces of love, truth etc. The good are good, the evil are evil and there isn't that much of a focus on the latter.
In some ways New York is the central character in the novel, whilst the storyline is the pursuit of the ideal city. "To enter a city intact it is necessary to pass through . . . gates far more difficult to find than gates of stone, for they are test mechanisms, devices, and implementations of justice.'' One gate is that of ''acceptance of responsibility,'' another is that of ''the desire to explore,'' still another that of ''devotion to beauty,'' and the last is the gate of ''selfless love.'' Does the ideal come at the end of the novel?
This book has been lauded as a great feat of magic realism, and compared to the wonderful One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have to differ - it is not as great as Marquez's masterpiece and I don't think there was a lot of realism in the book to make it a great magic realism book.
I found the book overly verbose. Like one of his characters the author uses all sorts of unusual words, which I found got in the way of understanding rather than illuminating. Halprin applies layer upon layer of description to the point where it was possible to skip several pages without missing any of the story. At first I really enjoyed his descriptions, but after a while found them tedious and at times not even very good.
It is nevertheless an impressive book, full of wonderful images, thoughts and imagination. The book reminded me of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and like Pullman's book had me loving it in parts and leaving me nevertheless unsatisfied.
This review first appeared on the Magic Realism blog