Sunday, February 21, 2010

TSS: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I didn't so much "read" Let the Great World by Colum McCann as "experience" it. And what an experience it was...

The novel portrays an imaginary chain of events unfolding around Philippe Petit's actual high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974. We meet the Park Avenue judge who hears the case, his grieving wife and other members of a group mourning sons lost in Vietnam, heroin-addicted Bronx prostitutes (including a mother-daughter duo), an Irish radical monk and his brother, young artists, and even computer geeks from California.

I started out listening to the audio version of Let the Great World Spin. It features seven readers, and the story unfolds from multiple points of view. These narrators offer wonderfully distinctive voices, which are especially effective as some sections are told in the first person. After listening to the first couple disks, there were passages I wanted to reread and questions about the novel's structure to be answered, so I borrowed the book from the library. From that point, I listened in the car and read on at home in the evening.

I remain in awe of an imagination that can plot such intricate stories and then weave them together with a common thread.

Favorite passages:
"We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only it's memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant." (page 47)

"I don't know who God is but if I meet him anytime soon I'm going to get Him in the corner until He tells me the truth.
I'm going to slap Him stupid and push Him around until He can't run away. Until He's looking up at me and then I'll get Him to tell me why He done what H done to me and what He done to Corrie..." (page 230)

"I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is still a point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive." (page 279)

The final section takes place in 2006. The events are looked upon with a post- 9/11 eye.
"A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don't fall apart." (page 325)

"The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." (page 349)

Indeed! I loved Let the Great World Spin, and can certainly see why it won the 2009 National Book Award for fiction. Highly recommended.

A note of caution: DO NOT read the Publisher's Weekly summary on Amazon. It contains spoilers.

FTC disclosure: The audio was purchased from The book was borrowed from the library. It's overdue - I want to keep it.


  1. I want to read this book so absurdly bad. It's been on my library hold list for what seems like a decade but I'm not moving up in the line at all. (Could it be that you're keeping my copy from me!?) :P

    I'm glad you give it such a strong review. It only makes me want to read it more.

  2. I can't wait to read this one because I was knocked off my pins by the documentary about this guy. Of course, I can't remember what the movie is called now, but if you haven't seen it yet, watch it. It is amazing.

    Have you considered joining my Battle of the Prizes, American Version challenge? Since you have already read and reviewed this on, you are one third of the way through!

  3. I am glad you enjoyed this book so much. I have it on the top of my tbr pile and am hoping to read it very soon. My husband read it very recently and was in awe of it. With minds and writers like this author's out there, it's a wonder so many people still write! But I also think it's a bad idea to compare yourself to anyone else because it takes all kinds to make the world work.

    Thanks for a great review!

  4. Love that you're gushing over this. I also want to read it! Ever since Frances posted about it. I don't like the Canadian paperback cover though, so am waiting for the UK paperback to come out. So vain, but I know I'll want to keep it. :)

  5. I can feel your enthusiasm in your post for this book...yay

    I love having both the audio and the print copy when possible. Thanks for your recommendation Joanne

  6. The name of the documentary was called "Man on Wire" and it possibly was the best doc of 2009. I am just fascinated with this man's whole story, and the whole twin towers thing. I'm off to see if my library has this audio! (Yes! They have it, and it has been ordered!)

  7. I need to get my hands on the documentary because this sounds very very intriguing. I'm trying really hard to follow the story plit but I'm still loving how excited you are about this book. When I was little, I ripped out the due date cards in the library books and hid them under my bed...I loved keeping books!! LOL!!

  8. Great review, this book definitely sounds like something I should read. I love those quotes you included. I've never really listened to audio-books, but I can see how it can really enrich a reading experience, especially for books with multiple narrators.

  9. I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much. It didn't really hold together for me, lost me in the middle.

    "Man on Wire" is an amazing film, see it if you can.

  10. Interesting. I've seen this book in the bookshops but I wasn't sure what it was about. Yours is the first blog review I've seen.

  11. It is good to know that you enjoyed this. I have been considering it for a while. I think I'll try to seek out a copy now. Thanks for such a great review!

  12. I got this book for Christmas; I can't wait to read it. I love the Phillippe Petit story. The movie MAN ON WIRE was fantastic and there's even a children's book about him, THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS, by author/illustrator Mordecai Gerstein that is really quite terrific. I hope I get to it soon; thanks for reminding me it's sitting on my shelf!

  13. Yes! Man on Wire, that's what the movie was called. Amazing flick.

  14. This one has passed me by totally. It does sound good though.

  15. I vaguely remeber reading about htis one awhile ago. Since you recommend it so highly and it does look like an experience I'm adding it to my list!

  16. Likeglass - I was so lucky to be second on the library list - was expecting a much longer wait. My copy was finally returned, so hopefully you'll get it soon ;-)

    Rose City Reader - I haven't joined any challenges this year, but I looked at yours carefully... even made a mental list of choices. Don't know if I'll last all year though.

    Amy - It's good to hear from you! This was one of the most imaginatively plotted books I've read in a long time. Will be interested to know what you think of it.

    Claire - I think I first heard about this book from Frances. And covers are VERY important... they add a lot to my reading experience!

    Diane - I don't think I would have enjoyed this book nearly as much with just the audio or just the print. Weird, huh?

    Sandy - Man on Wire is going on my Netflix Thanks for the title name.

    Staci - I can just see you as a little kid ripping out those due date cards - LOL!! I'm looking forward to the documentary, too.

    Dana - You're right. Books with multiple narrators seem to benefit from the audio format. I think the fact that I had both the audio and the book made this experience extra-special.

    Gavin - I think the combination of the book and audio really did it for me. Hearing all the character's voices was magical, but I needed the book to help me stay on track with how it all fit together.

  17. Mrs. B - I think there is a blog tour for this book next month. You may be seeing quite a few more reviews...

    Farmlanebooks - McCann is quite a talented writer. I think you'd like this one!

    Marie - I've just added Man on Wire to my Netflix queue, and I see it's even available to view instantly. Hope to get to it this week. Can't wait to see what you think of the book!

    Jo - You'll be seeing more reviews for this one. There's a blog tour coming up, I think.

    Stacybuckeye - I love how fact and fiction are woven together in this book. There will be more reviews popping up for a blog tour in the next few weeks.

  18. For some reason, this story never interested me from afar. But your review does make me want to read it - from your review, it sounds like it is very well-written which always appeals to me!

  19. Booksnyc - I really liked this one and was amazed at how McCann could bring so many stories together!


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