A spinning kaleidoscope of a novel that keeps you teetering on the edge and your head literally spinning: I was unable to put this book down once I’d delved into it. What could a tightrope walker, an Irish monk and a prostitute called Tilly possibly have to do with an Upper East Side housewife stricken by grief and a couple attempting to leave a world of drugs and alcohol behind them?
McCann’s novel is set amidst the whirl and burl of New York City against a very unique backdrop – back in 1974, un jeune français Philippe Petit infamously took it upon himself to tiptoe right across the ‘tippy top’ of the Twin Towers armed with just a terribly long balancing pole, and you can see a short film of him doing this and witness the fantastic comments of one of the two policemen taxed with trying to stop him lie down, genuflect and dance up in the clouds in this heady Daily Motion footage – or even better, settle down to see the award-winning documentary “Man on Wire” made five years after the towers were no longer. It’s hard to watch elements of the building of this massive construction during the clip, in the knowledge of what comes later.
A new film of the funambulist’s exploits and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe is coming out in the autumn, I see, the trailer looks suitably vertiginous…
When the book came along another a year or so after the 2008 Bafta-winning documentary, it only really briefly yet memorably touched on the towers and even on the cavorting acrobatics overhead, yet as a read it does very cleverly hit you in the gut, and you do definitely get the feeling that like the characters in the novel, we are all teetering along a tightrope of our own, even if it is only an inch or so off the ground. As the story unravels, events occur as in real life which in a split second change individuals lives forever. Even more beautifully, the book sneaks up on you, because these disparate characters start to collide against each other or linking in together in entirely credible ways. As a reader you cannot help but be moved and concerned with the people he describes: it’s heartbreaking, and deals with grief and grieving, yet it is far from bleak or dispiriting. New York is there in all its hard and grimy glory too; this is not a book that could have been based, of course, anywhere else.
It’s a dazzling read which, like “Olive Kitteridge”, has the feel of unrelated short stories for a while, and that takes a little getting used to – but gosh does it all come together resoundingly well. Full of electric characters, it’s heady, exuberant, engrossing, altogether quite brilliant – absolutely loved it.
Rating : 10/10 – A FAVOURITE BOOK
Winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2011, Winner of The National Book Award for Fiction in 2011