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#BookReview ‘City on Fire’ by Garth Risk Hallberg. How Long Was My Novel.

City on Fire, Kindle by Gareth Risk Hallberg
City on Fire, Kindle by Garth Risk Hallberg

Title:  City on Fire
Author:   Garth Risk Hallberg
ISBN:  0385353774

ASIN:  B0104WXPR8
Published:  E-book version due on 22nd October, although available in paperback
Pages:  944
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, urban

Body of review: 

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. How Long Was My Novel.

Thanks to the publishers (Vintage/Penguin Random House) and to Net Galley for offering me a complimentary copy in exchange for a review.

I must confess to feeling curious after reading about all the attention the novel was getting and the advance praise. Although I read a variety of authors and genres, I studied American Literature and have an affinity for it and an interest in new American writers, so I was intrigued. But, I didn’t investigate the matter further and didn’t quite realise how long this novel was.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read, and loved, many long novels (I love Moby Dick, although it is not quite this long, but I’ve also read War and Peace, several of Jonathan Franzen’s novels, and have never felt the length). And I’m sure I’ll read many more. Although perhaps since I’ve been dedicating more time to reviewing and reading about writing, I’ve become more impatient.

City on Fire is 944 pages long. There are many stories, all entangled into one (sort of), told from different characters’ point of view (using the third person), with some interludes that include (fictitious) documentation, like the article on Fireworkers (experts on firework or pyrotechnics) written by Richard, a reporter and writer, or the Fanzines that Sam (a young girl, fan of Punk music) writes. The novel doesn’t follow a chronological order either, and you have episodes set before New Year’s Eve, when one of the central plot events takes place —the shooting of a young girl (Sam)—, some set after, and some set many years later, with flashbacks to years before, in seemingly no particular order, although not difficult to follow (but somewhat exhausting if one is reading for long periods of time. And I wonder if it could be confusing if people read the book in short chunks). The book, set in New York, in the Seventies, refers also to a number of issues, like the financial crisis, the musical movements of the time, riots, the big blackout, art, and all those worlds are illustrated by characters from different genres, social classes, walks of life, ethnicities, sexuality and origins. Ambitious is an adjective that has been used to describe this novel, and there’s no denying that. There are cops with physical ailments nearing retirement, artist, musicians, youngsters exploring and discovering themselves, rich and unhappy families, conspiracies and financial entanglements, an anarchist group setting up fires and bombs, adultery, love, a shooting, drugs, alcohol, writing, radio… And always New York.

The author has a beautiful turn of phrase, and you can’t but admire some of his sentences, although they can have the effect of throwing you out of the story. I kept thinking of the indictment for writers, ‘Kill your darlings’, don’t let those pieces that seem like beautiful paintings decorating the book just hang there. Remove anything that has nothing to do with the story or does not contribute to its progress. But perhaps the story is not the aim of this novel. I wasn’t so sure about the characters, either. Most of them were interesting, but perhaps there was something generic about them, and despite the length of the book I didn’t get the sense that I really knew a lot of them (not the same time is dedicated to the inner thoughts of all the characters, and some of the secondary characters that are potentially interesting, like Amory, are not given a voice), and the ones I felt I knew were familiar types. The rhythm is leisurely and although at times it seems about to pick up the pace (during the blackout), the changes in time-frame and point of view slow it down again. I was somewhat puzzled at finding the interludes about the fireworks more engrossing than some parts of the novel (although I’ve always loved fireworks, but it could be the journalistic style).

Having read some of the comments, I have to agree that much of what contributes to the vastness of the novel does not necessarily add to the experience of the reader or the story (at least for me). City on Fire is a huge canvas, with some very beautiful splashes and sublime moments, but perhaps the sum does not live up to the promise of the parts. I felt it aspired to be like one of the fireworks it describes, that have several layers and fuses, and go up, and down, and then back up again, before exploding in a wonder of colours and shapes. For me it didn’t manage, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hollberg Paperback
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg Paperback

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 3.5/5
Made Me Think: 4/5
Overall enjoyment: 3.5/5
Readability: 3/5
Recommended: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
 

Buy it at:  Amazon
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $13.40 

Hardback: $18 
Kindle: $11.47 

Audio: $16.93 

 Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://OlgaNM.wordpress.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com

 

Echoes of Narcissus in the Gardens of Delight by @JoRobinson176

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Donna thought there was something wrong with her. That she was suffering from a mental illness that has caused her husband to despise her, distance himself from her, and cheat on her. She blames herself for the desolate, miserable thing that is her marriage and her life. Then she comes across a book that will change everything for her, and reading it, she discovers that there’s nothing wrong with her mind at all, but that there is something very wrong with her husband instead. Marco, she realises, is a malignJo Rpbinson Echoes of Narcissus in the Gardens of Delightant narcissist. A text book case. He has a real and documented mental disorder, and that he’s been controlling, manipulating, and abusing her for decades. The sudden full knowledge of all that he’s purposely done to her enrages her. Not sure how to leave after thirty years of what she finally knows has been intentional mental and emotional abuse from him, and believing that she has nowhere to turn, being so physically isolated, she bides her time.

Then she meets and befriends a group of unusual people who share her passion for gardening, and so begins her journey to escape. She joins her new friends in their project to assist elderly people in old age homes care for their small gardens, as well as secretly supplying those suffering from painful and terminal illnesses with medicinal herb and plant remedies, including illegal plants such as cannabis. As weeks go by, she delves into her memories, relearns what it is to be respected, liked, and loved again, and slowly she formulates a plan to safely leave her dangerous husband. But unbeknownst to Donna, Marco is in serious trouble, and has desperate plans of his own, and absolutely no regard for her safety.

** This is a work of fiction, but malignant narcissists really do exist, and it is a recognised mental illness. Unfortunately, many people never realise that they are involved with a narcissist, because their actions are so demonically bad as to be unimaginable and unbelievable, and so they spend their lives in misery, depression, fear, and isolation. If only by the accidental reading of a fictional story, I hope that this book will help even one person, unknowingly suffering narcissistic abuse, to realise that they don’t have to, and that it’s never too late to start over, be happy, be fulfilled, to love and care for yourself, and be truly loved and respected by others.

Jo Robinson very recently returned to her homeland, South Africa, after having lived in rural Zimbabwe for eighteen years. Her obsessive affection for the African continent, most humans, and all creatures feathered and furred are what inspire her writing. She is the author of African Me & Satellite TV, the science-fiction/fantasy series Shadow People, and a couple of short stories, which will be free to download from Amazon from 26 to 30 December, Fly Birdie and The Visitation.

To win eBook copies of Shadow People and African Me & Satellite TV, send Jo a message from THIS page.

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