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Review: ‘Let the Great World Spin’ by Colum McCann

Review: ‘Let the Great World Spin’ by Colum McCann post image

Title: Let the Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2009
Acquired: Bought
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Let the Great World Spin starts with a moment: a man, standing 110 stories up on the edge of one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.  Across New York, people from all walks of life are being impacted by this single event, and their connected yet separate stories are what make up the narrative of this book.

I’ve wanted to read Let the Great World Spin since I heard about it in 2009. I’m in love with interconnected narratives, so this book seemed right up my alley, and for the most part it absolutely was. I feel like reading these connected short story type narratives is a puzzle, and that it takes an active reader, reading carefully, to pull everything together.

My favorite parts of the book were the sections I read first — I had time to really sit down and invest in the book. As I moved on, I could only read in snatches, which made the connected parts harder to piece together. I found myself forgetting characters or plot points or the moments of intersection, which I think took away from my reading experience. That’s not really a problem with the book, other than perhaps McCann could have been more explicit about the relationships… or I was just reading badly.

Even so, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. McCann has a lot of very different characters — an Irish priest, a prostitute and her daughter, a Park Avenue mother and a mother from a less-desirable place, the tightrope walker, a city judge, a nurse and her children, an artist and her boyfriend… and others, who all have some space in the book for their story. It’s hard, at first, to see how these people — from such wildly different places — are going to come together, but I thought the way it did was satisfying even if I was having a hard time pulling all the threads together.

Clearly, my brain is still on vacation, mixing metaphors about puzzles and strings to try and describe this book. In an interview at the end of my paperback edition, Colum McCann sums up I think the best part of the book, the way his different stories come together to form a portrait of a place by telling the story of it’s people:

I wanted it to be a Whitmanesque song of the city, with everything in there — high and low, rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic. Hungary, exhausted, filthy, vivacious, everything this lovely city is. I wanted to catch some of that music and slap it down on the page so that even those who have never been to New York can be temporarily transported there.

Other Reviews: Caribousmom | The Literate Housewife Review | She Is Too Fond of Books | Beth Fish Reads | S. Krishna’s Books | My Friend Amy | Jenny’s Books |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kailana July 7, 2011, 9:28 am

    Colum McCann is an author I have been meaning to read, but haven’t had a chance to yet.

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:23 pm

      This was my first Colum McCann book, but I’ll be looking for more.

  • Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books July 7, 2011, 10:15 am

    Thanks for linking to my review … I really like the interview excerpt you pulled; I’ll have to look for the interview online (it’s not in my copy of the book!)

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:23 pm

      The interview at the end of the paperback was excellent — I’d check it out!

  • Aths July 7, 2011, 10:54 am

    I love interconnected stories as well and I’ve been waiting to read this since last year. The characters of this book sure sound fascinating.

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:23 pm

      I love them too. It’s one of my favorite types of fiction to read right now.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) July 7, 2011, 11:07 am

    I’d like to read this but think I need to wait until I have the time to invest in it before I start it.

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:24 pm

      I think it’s a book that benefits from a few long reads, it helps pull everything together.

  • Stephanie July 7, 2011, 5:05 pm

    I bought a copy of this book even though I was a bit unsure about it. I have a feeling I will like it though.

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:24 pm

      Parts are very gritty and dark, but overall I enjoyed it a lot.

  • Maphead July 7, 2011, 7:09 pm

    Glad you liked it too !

  • Greg Zimmerman July 8, 2011, 11:02 am

    Very nice review – I can see how reading in snippets would make it a little harder to parse the connections in this. Even so, the language on a line-by-line basis by itself makes this a breathtaking novel, in my humble view. I hadn’t ever read anything quite like it – I was absolutely knocked over.

    Here’s my gushfest, if you’re interested: http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.com/2010/05/let-great-world-spin-elegant-profound.html

    (New follower here, by the way – just recommended to you by The Reading Ape. Even though you went to Madison, I’m hoping we can still be friends. I’m a Marquette alum. 😉 )

    • Kim July 9, 2011, 12:26 pm

      Agreed — the language was beautiful and the stories were great. On the whole, a really excellent book. Thanks for linking to your review! And I think I can ignore the Marquette connection for a fellow book blogger 🙂

  • Jenny July 9, 2011, 4:53 pm

    I wasn’t crazy about this book, and still don’t love it, but reading it with my book club made me think a lot more about what the book is about. I think it’s cool that McCann wrote a book about being defined by absences — the brother without his brother, the mother without her daughter, the parents without their sons, and of course, New York without the World Trade Center. Although the book still isn’t my cup of tea, McCann did a beautiful job with that aspect of it.

    • Kim July 12, 2011, 6:59 pm

      That’s a good way of putting it, a book of absences. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. That’s quite lovely 🙂

  • Jennifer July 10, 2011, 9:37 am

    My brain has definitely been on vacation lately. I have been looking for some more engrossing challenging books to hopefully pull me back into the real world. This sounds like the perfect book to top that list.

    • Kim July 12, 2011, 7:00 pm

      I think this could do it. There’s some complexity with the weaving narratives, but it’s not so hard that it causes bogging down. I hope you enjoy it!