Monday, 29 November 2010

Let The Geat World Spin by Colum McCann

I’m finding it difficult to actually summarise what Let The Great World Spin is actually about. It actually includes a fictionalised account of Philllipe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Centre, but it’s not really about this. It is actually a series of stories about a rather large cast of characters, all of whom ether witnessed, or were in some way involved in Petit’s daring stunt. The stories are all set in New York, and although we are presented with a ‘no holds barred’, gritty overview of New York, particularly its darker, grubbier side, this book is not really about that either. It is more about the personal stories of the characters themselves and the connections between the characters, although in the majority of cases they are connections they are not aware of.

Although the action takes pace mainly on the day of the high wire walk itself, with each character, we get a view of what they are doing on the day, usually interlinked with their history, so we discover the situation they are in now, as well as finding out how their life has panned out to get them there. It is difficult to detail the connections as that is part of the beauty of this novel, the connections between the characters do not become apparent until the latter half of the book. We start with an Irish Jesuit priest living in the Bronx, being a friend to the prostitutes and struggling with a personal dilemma involving his vow of celibacy and falling in love. There are also stories involving a drug addled bohemian couple, at least one of who’s life is turned around in a car accident, a prostitute telling her story from jail, and her daughter (also a prostitute), as well as a group of women all grieving the loss of children in Vietnam, and a judge presiding in court the day the tightrope walker is brought in.

All of the lives detailed in the book are precariously balanced, an obvious parallel to the walker high above the city, precariously balanced himself. I think thats what I liked most about this book. All of the characters have some horrendous things thrown at them, whether through circumstance, their own making, or a little of both, yet somehow, they seem to carry on, in some way or another. They all seem to find ways of coping with heartbreak or grief, and most of the characters seem to find a point or meaning to their lives. They are all characterised so well, and in a way they all seem so individual, yet the ordinariness of their lives and their daily struggles seem so universal, even though most of their situations are alien to me. To each character, their life is all they have, and all they are fighting for, yet as a reader, with the knowledge of all the characters, it was fascinating to see how small events and small kindnesses in fact can have an impact on someone else’s life. It is almost managing to convey that life is so small, but also so big both at the same time.

I think there is so much more in this book than I could possibly write about here. I loved it. I think I loved everything about it. From the troubled Irish Priest to Tillie, the career prostitute, I loved them all, I was rooting for them all. Tillie particularly was heartbreaking. Her voice telling her story from prison, lamenting the fact that her daughter ended up in the same position as her, even though she promised her she never would. Somehow, through all their faults, and all their bad choices, I felt so much for these people. And of course, the tightrope walker. I need to know more about him. I did read a bit about him here, but I think I will be searching out more about him, and this event in particular. And of course, it was interconnected stories, always a hit with me anyway, especially with the gradual reveal that makes everything come together at the end.

Favourite bits.

“It had never occurred to me before, but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing is as strange as the last, and connected.”

“We have all heard of these things before. The love letter arriving as the teacup falls. The guitar striking up as the last breath sounds out. I don’t attribute it to God or sentiment. Perhaps it’s chance. Or perhaps chance is just another way to convince ourselves we are valuable.”


Anna said...

I really liked this book, too, but you really have to get to the end and see all the connections to truly appreciate it. You summed up the book perfectly!

Lesley said...

Jo, have you seen the documentary film Man on Wire? It is about this event and features footage from that day, etc. Fascinating and a great companion piece to this book, I think. And so perhaps I should read it. :)

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