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3.4 out of 5 stars
48
3.4 out of 5 stars
And Sons
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 April 2014
& Sons is a book that, in our terms, really brings New York to life. From the upmarket apartments on the Upper East and Upper West side, through the literary launch at the Frick, the over the top (and drug fuelled) limo ride across Brooklyn Bridge, the pretzel hunt through Central Park, and the mad romp around the Met... it is all there, the city at its most vivid. This is fiction set in New York, with the location as one of the key characters.

It is also a very ambitious (and challenging) work – a work that seeks to put David Gilbert into the category of Great American Novelist. It opens with a rambling eulogy that author, A N Dyer, gives at the funeral of his oldest friend, Charles Topping – and the story goes on to be told through the eyes of Charles’ son, Philip… a somewhat contrived and confusing individual with the gift of being able to move between the personae of the main characters. Other than A N (Andrew) Dyer, the three main male characters (David Gilbert doesn’t really do female..) are his two sons Richard and Jamie, and their much younger step brother, Andy. A N Dyer had written a major novel, Ampersand, at the age of 27 – and had lived off its glory for years afterwards. It had sold 45m copies. & Sons explores the impact this success of their father had upon Richard and Jamie – Richard now a recovered addict living in California, running drug rehabilitation workshops, and playing at being a screenwriter. Jamie a controversial maker of short You Tube documentaries that are in questionable taste. Andy is a teenager focused on getting laid by / with Sophie – a slightly older publishing assistant. Andy was a result (or was he?) of a brief liaison between A N Dyer and a Swedish au pair that brought down his marriage. He befriends Richard’s son, Emmett, and shows him New York. The story is the story of the interaction between the two full brothers – both intense sibling love and rivalry played out in a location that is home to neither of them.

The book is extraordinarily well and wittily written, even if some of the sentence and paragraph structures are a little convoluted and hard to follow. David Gilbert has vast literary knowledge and this plays through into many of the references in the book. It is without doubt a BIG book… Whether it quite works at every level, though, I am not sure. The revelations (not to be repeated here..) about Andy’s possible origins throw the whole work into a different – and, to me, slightly confusing - perspective. I was not entirely sure of the relevance or point…

All that said, & Sons is absolutely worth the effort and concentration required to read it. And, most importantly in TripFiction terms, the work really does bring New York quite vividly to the reader’s mind - and will be a great read for anyone heading in that direction. David Gilbert was brought up on the Upper East Side. The book is set in his own back yard – and it shows.
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on 25 January 2015
This is very nearly very good, but... As others have said below, it is brilliantly written but at some point that starts to wear off because there is nothing holding it together. It reads like a string of characterisations and I kept thinking that NOW the story or plot or drama or whatever would start, or there would be some major relevation that for example the main character A N Dyer had not actually written the book on which Gilbert's concept is based ("Ampersand") but nothing like that happens. Full marks for skill, even virtuosity, but it is not enough.
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on 15 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read some reviews of this book before buying it and thought it sounded like a very good read. However I don't think this book lives up to that expectation.

Some good sections, some interesting ideas (especially a more fanciful notion that arises later on through the book) but wow, these are some unlikeable people! All the main characters had very little to connect you to them - basically they're an assortment of bullies, underachievers and frustrated losers. The main narrative character is so wet and miserable that you just feel like reaching into the book and giving him a good shake! I also thought that David Gilbert's portrayal of the teenagers fell into the usual trap of writing dialogue / thoughts that sound nothing like most teenagers on earth. One minute Andy (the young son) is using lines such as "like the Met on Eightieth and Fifth, with the knights and stuff?" and then the next has thoughts such as "death existing as gesture rather than extinction"! I always find inconsistencies like that pull you straight out of the narrative and remind that this is a piece of writing rather than an immersive story. I suppose you could argue that we are seeing Andy through the prism of the narrator's writing but it still doesn't ring very true for me.

Overall I would say that it's not a terrible book but wasn't the wonderful piece of writing I was hoping for.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 24 March 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Decades of friendship end with the death of Charles Topping, ailing acclaimed author A.N. Dyer coaxed out of seclusion to speak at the funeral. He himself knows little time remains. Fame is assured with fourteen major novels - the first, "Ampersand", now seemingly part of America's DNA. What, though, of his personal life? What of Charles's son Philip, his own sons Richard, Jamie and seventeen year old Andy? Fences need to be mended, records set straight.

Hopes were high for "& Sons" after all the praise lavished, critics ecstatic about such a sparkling, exhilarating ride. Sadly I am one of those for whom it proved a lengthy, tedious journey. For me it seemed the product of head rather than heart, emphasis on ultra-cleverness with words, literary allusions, puns, characters forever speaking for ages or trying to cap each other's "wit". The words swamped. Certain sections irritatingly just went on and on (pretzels anyone?). Nowhere was there anybody to warm to, the four sons all rather remote and uninvolving. A test in such matters is reaction if someone dies. If there is no sense of loss, this surely indicates inadequate impact has been made?

A.N. Dyer himself comes over most strongly - he, old and sick, rarely venturing from his study, forever speedily typing between long naps. Extracts from his "Ampersand" intrigue. (For portraying teenage angst, it ranks alongside Salinger's masterpiece - the latter often preferred by schools as so much shorter). There are amusing glimpses of Hollywood's eagerness to gain filming rights, whilst others hope to cash in on the writer's collected notes and manuscripts. Abounding are dry observations, the family declared essentially a collection of strangers with a few things in common.

Generally I found here a sadness, an emptiness. What is life? What of worth remains after ashes have been scattered?

Others discovered so much that delighted. Despite conscientiously reading to the very end, I have to confess this a very rare instance when a novel left me cold.
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on 10 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The narrator of "& Sons" is Philip Topping, a failed father, husband, teacher, and writer, who has an unhealthy obsession with A. N. Dyer, a Great American Novelist and his father's best friend. I was instantly immersed in the world of Dyer and his sons, savouring Gilbert's dissection of their privileged East Coast lifestyle and the concomitant literary landscape. The reader, however, cannot become too involved without being reminded of who the narrator is (a man with his own literary pretensions) and this slippery pitiful character adds an extra layer of enjoyment. All in all "& Sons" is a meaty satisfying read to which my mind can't help returning.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a bold and ambitious novel: it takes that axiom about the only means of immortality being through children and art, and mixes them both together. A.N.Dyer is almost 80, a grand old man of American literature, and when his life-long friend dies, he is forced to face his own mortality. The narrative takes place as he revisits his now-canonical novel and gathers his sons around him.

There are interesting ideas at work in this book, and Gilbert is a deft hand at skewering intellectual pretensions, but the body of this book is hardly novel territory: generational angst, the fraught relationships between fathers and sons, questions of fiction and reality, and whether memory is always nothing more than fiction aimed at telling us who we are and where we are from are treated in many books: Ballistics by D.W.Wilson, for example, trod very similar territory last year with, arguably, more emotional potency.

There’s a kind of frenetic energy about the writing which I enjoyed but also too many places where the text seems to be so intoxicated with itself that it trips over into the meaningless. Similes and metaphors are especially stretched: ‘Curtis picked up a small wooden sculpture... he could have been Yorick if Hamlet were the skull’; ‘Curtis flexed a smile, his bow-tie the dumbbell’... what?

This reads to me like a first draft which needs a bold revisionary hand to cut the dead wood and make sense of some of the tangled writing. It’s big and bold and energetic, and definitely worth reading but was ultimately less satisfying that I’d hoped for: 3.5 stars.
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VINE VOICEon 7 March 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Wanted to life this more than I eventually did. There's much to commend about about Gilbert's writing - his eye for those small details that add up to a life; the rhythms of our days, and the complex relations between people, especially relations. However the complex, fragmented style of And Sons got in the way for me. Yes, it's smart - attempting to show there's no single truth, and that we all experience life differently; that while we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions. But, ultimately, And Sons was like being forced to listen to an entire three-disc prog rock album, when a single LP of eight straight-up three minute pop songs would have done the job better.
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on 21 August 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I will admit straight away - I did not finish this book; I found it quite laborious at times, and the characters pretty unengaging. Gilbert knows he can write an expressive, pretty flamboyant sentence - but after a while it just felt like showing-off to me.
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on 28 February 2015
Tried and tried – believe me I tried. I hate putting a book down before the end – rarely if ever do so. I gave it a fair chance but gave up after 70 pages. Suddenly thought – hey – I’ve only got maybe another 20 years left at the most and there’s other things I should be focussing on. Realised that I didn’t care about any of the characters unless there was some indication that they would all self-combust. Sorry...
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2014
Once in a while a novel comes along which makes you realise why we read, & Sons is that novel.

On 5th Avenue at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Phillip Topping is attending his father, Charlie Topping's funeral, however this is no ordinary funeral as Charlie was a life long friend of A.N. Dyer, a renowned author whose novel Ampersand set the literary world alight and has become the 'Catcher in the Rye' of its time. Dyer now very reclusive is attending and the funeral is packed with fans hoping to claim a signature or a piece of the great man. Dependent upon his youngest son Andy, Dyer has become convinced that he will be attending another funeral very shortly, only this time it will be his own, and so he decides to bring together his 3 sons in order to sort out his affairs and right some wrongs which have happened over his and their lifetime. We witness past, present and future events through the ever present narrator Phillip Topping which will have repercussions for the Dyers and the Toppings and we soon realise that Phillip himself may not just be a casual observer and narrator within this tale.

& Sons deserves to become a modern American classic work of literature. David Gilbert's writing is tremendous, his prose has a naturalistic flow to it and is incisive, witty and just a dream to read, in fact A.N. Dyer would be proud to have produced & Sons! An absolute joy, what more can I say.

Update

This was my read of last year, and I am happy to say I have all ready seen that it might be nominated for the 2014 Booker prize. Genius!
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