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Monday, 12 December 2011

2011 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Winner – Let The Great World Spin – Colum McCann

After punching through 13 long listed novels from the 2011 Booker Prize Long List, I thought a change of pace was in order – hence the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. This Award is one of the richest in the world and nominations are submitted by public libraries throughout the world, for works either published or translated into English. So therefore not as restrictive as the “Commonwealth Writer” novels of the Booker Prize.

What a change of pace I was in for!!!!

In 1974 the newly finished World Trade Centre Twin Towers were the setting for an audacious stunt. Philippe Petit, a French acrobat, walked between the towers on a tight rope. Apparently this stunt was long forgotten until the events of 9/11 forced a revisiting of history, documentaries were made etc etc. This event is the starting point and the catalyst for Colum McCann’s novel, with the walk having various levels of impact upon a vast array of characters.

Flash back to Ireland for the youthful exuberance of one of the main characters Corrigan and his brother Ciaran;

Corrigan liked those places where light was drained. The docklands. The flophouses. The corners where the cobbles were broken. He often sat with the drunks in Frenchman’s lane and Spencer Row. He brought a bottle with him, handed it around.

then forward again to 1970’s New York City. Does the walk in itself also reflect in the style and characters – starting off solid and assured, hopping from foot to foot later, lying down on the wire even later, then a rush to the finish line?

We have a street walking mother and daughter;

I cried all night. I ain’t ashamed. I don’t want them working no stroll. Why did I do what I done to Jazzlyn? That’s the thing I’d like to know. Why did I do what I done?

Corrigan and his religious beliefs who plays a central role, his questioning brother who is not part of the city, a housewife from Park Avenue, who has recently lost her son in Vietnam;

Was he taking care of himself? Did he have enough food? Did he keep his clothes clean? Was he losing weight? Everything reminded her. She even once put an extra plate out on the dinner table just for Joshua. Solomon said nothing about it.

her husband (Solomon) a judge;

Right and wrong. Left and right. Up and down. He thought himself up there, standing at the edge of the precipice, sick and dizzy, unaccountably looking upwards.

a mediocre artist and her boyfriend;

What Blaine had wanted was a year or two, maybe more, in the sticks. No distraction. To return to the moment of radical innocents. To paint. To stretch canvas. To find the point of originality. It wasn’t a hippie idea. Both of us had always hated the hippies, their flowers, their poems, their one idea. We were the furthest thing from the hippies. We were on the edge, the definers.

Throw in the support group friends of the neurotic (or is she?) housewife, aged care workers and more and we have the melting pot of New York City.

You could draw similarities to Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (from the 80’s), but then again you could draw a long bow and compare this to this year’s Pulitzer Winner “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan and it’s many voices portraying a message of societal breakdown due to the technology age.

“Let the Great World Spin” is a novel with changing narrative styles, different voices and styles and all the complex stories intertwined in some way. As the “Author’s Note” tells us:

The title of this book comes from the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem “Locksley Hall.” That in turn was heavily influenced by the “Mu’allaqat,” or the “Suspended Poems,” seven long Arabic poems written in the sixth century…..(it) asks, “Is there any hope that this desolation can bring me solace?”

The IMPAC Dublin Literary Award website “citation” says

This is a remarkable literary work, a genuinely 21st Century novel that speaks to its time but is not enslaved by it. The human condition, the kindness and cruelty shown from one man to another, the ways in which we suffer and triumph, are subjects which have resonated through fiction for centuries. In each generation, writers explore these themes and rephrase the questions that our humanity asks of us. There are few answers in this novel. Its beguiling nature leaves the reader with as much uncertainty as we feel throughout our lives, but therein lies the power of fiction and of this book in particular.
In the opening pages of Let The Great World Spin, the people of New York City stand breathless and overwhelmed as a great artist dazzles them in a realm that seemed impossible until that moment; Colum McCann does the same thing in this novel, leaving the reader just as stunned as the New Yorkers, just as moved and just as grateful.

And I concur – a novel you should have on your shelves and, for me, a grateful break from the Commonwealth writers.


denzanin said...

Hi Tony,
great review for a great book. I enjoyed following the struggles of the characters and seeing how each of their individual stories were eventually linked together. Such diverse characters, all sharing brief moments of joy to help them cope with the tragedies that have come their way. I look forward to reading more of your reviews on books I have read.

Tonymess said...

Thanks Denzanin, glad you enjoyed it too. One of the best books for the last couple of years for sure.