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Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now - Patrick McGrath

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Patrick McGrath / Paperback / 256 Pages / Book is published 2006-08-07 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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      25.04.2009 09:27
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      ===Background:===

      I was fortunate enough to win this book in our office Christmas Raffle. I had never seen, read or even heard of this author before. So I wasn't at all sure what to expect, but as it was a freebie, I thought I couldn't go wrong.

      ===About the author:===

      Patrick McGrath was born in London on the 7th February 1950. So far in his literary career he has written seven books and three collections of short stories. He novels are often characterised as Gothic fiction. His successful novels have used a diverse subject matter such as Mental illness, repressed homosexuality and adulterous relationships.

      ===Synopsis of the novel:===

      This book is a collection of three quite long, short stories, based around New York's interesting and varied history.

      The first of these is called 'The year of the Gibbet'. This is about a man who is haunted by the hanging of his mother during the American War of Independence with Britain. He unwittingly cannot lie to the British Officers questioning him, when he is a small boy. As a result his mother is searched and documents found showing she was helping the American soldiers fight the British. She was subsequently hung for this offence.

      The Second is called 'Julius'. This is about a wealthy merchant and his relationship with his sensitive son in the 19th Century. How Julius the son falls in love with an artist's model, who is not deemed expectable by his father and by those of his class. She is sent away, believed to be dead by the love stuck man, who goes mad and is put into an institution for 20 years.

      His third story is called 'Ground Zero'. It is taken immediately after the terrorist attack of 9/11. It was about a Psychologist and her relationship with a patient. Who following the incident meets a Chinese prostitute who had lost her lover in one of the Twin Towers. The prostitute is offloading her grief on her new client, who in turn is sharing this with his psychologist.

      ===My thoughts on the book:===

      My overall opinion of this collection of stories was that they were a poor piece of work. I found it impossible to get into these stories, as I found them too short and lacking focus as to where the story was actually going and what the meaning was behind them.

      Maybe in part it was because the author was writing about America. He was writing about significant periods in American history, times I know little about and even less about how they lived then. Even given that I found his stories to be quite dull and lifeless and as a result I was really pleased with myself when I completed it, I felt I had achieved something as my enjoyment level had been very low all the way through them.

      I must be completely honest; I really do struggle with American authors in general and despite this being an Englishman he wrote in a style I associate with them. They write about a place I have never been and a culture I do not completely understand and what I do know I don't particularly like. So I may well be a bit prejudice in my assessment of this book so please forgive me for that.

      The first story, I probably found this one the hardest to read and to understand or relate to. This in part could be because of my lack of historical knowledge about the period of 1776. I just found I couldn't get into it and found it unlikely and confusing. It did get me wondering about what happened to the boy after his mother's death and I would have liked to have known more about the direction his sad life took. Whereas it just dealt with the incident leading up to her hanging and his unwitting involvement in it.

      The Second story about Julius by contrast I enjoyed. I felt this story was going somewhere and one I could really get into. I liked the way this sensitive young man was supported and advised by his sisters. It sent a clear message about the power of love and how it can affect and alter all around its powerful force. I found I could understand this man and I enjoyed his relationship with his father, who was only interested in how things looked to his peers.

      The final story dealt with feelings following the 9/11 attacks. Again it was sad and sentimental, with the Psychologist feeling everything was better before that day. But then she realised through her client there was still evil and wrong doing in America. I kept expecting something to really grab my attention but again it lacked direction and I went away wondering what I'd missed in it.

      This book demonstrated the unhappy and sad side of life. For me each story was too short to have an effective outcome, but that could well have been more to do with the story and the content within it than the length of it. The only real link between the stories was the place although it did demonstrate how much the place had changed in the different periods of time and how people's expectations, life expectations had also changed so dramatically over the time period.

      All the stories highlighted New York's troubled history and had a link to the unknown and the supernatural. These were subtly put into the story, but could and in my opinion should have been expanded upon, as I liked their linking and I thought it brought an interesting aspect into them. I thought these were going to be far more important given the title of the book and was somewhat disappointed with the limited role they played, as the groundwork was there by the author he just needed to exploit these to captivate the readers interest.

      I found the author's writing style not to my liking at all. I thought his descriptive words unappealing and dull and as a result I could not get into what he was telling me. I even had to re-read sections as I had not taken it at all what I was reading. I was looking for something deep and meaningful in his words and sadly I never found it. What I found was three fairly bland stories.

      To my surprise McGrath's characters on the whole were dull and lacked real personality that I could relate to or even become interested in. The exception was Julius in the second story but even his story did not deal with enough about what he was thinking and why this girl was so special to him. I felt the author missed an opportunity for the reader to really get into the characters view of life and how hard it is living up to some people's expectations of you. There descriptions and even their personalities seemed weak and I struggled to feel empathy and understanding for them.

      I think the stories would have been better if the author had a clear plan before he told each story. As I got the impression he was thinking it up as he went along, that the way it read to me anyway. This is probably very unfair of me to say that but that was how I felt when I read it, that we were meandering along, waiting for an idea to come along.

      There was a certain amount of suspense in the stories but for me that had a lot to do with not really understanding what the author had in mind for the direction of the stories. I expected unusual and impressive twists but they were missing to, in the end what was left were three unusual and in my opinion quite bizarre short stories.

      I am very curious to read another book by this author, as I can't honestly imagine it from my perspective can be as dull and lacking insight and imagination as this one. I have always looked for positives in all the novels I read but in this one I have really struggled to find any.

      If this was supposed to be a thought provoking series of short stories it went badly wrong, so the only thought I had was when was I going to finish it!! On a positive note I did like the title that sounded full of potential, just a shame what followed it.

      ===Conclusion:===

      This is probably one of the worst book's I have read in a long time. I have found it hard to be positive in any way about it. The concept behind them was weak and the stories themselves were hard work and very disappointing. With the exception of story 2 'Julius' I found them dull and pointless. I do not know what the author was trying to get across to me, if anything but it was totally wasted on me. I was just glad I hadn't paid to read this.

      Pages: 243
      Publisher: Bloomsbury
      Price: £5.49
      ISBN: 0-7475-8372-2
      Year: 2005
      About the author: www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/patrick-mcgrath

      Many thanks for reading my review.

      This is published under my name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.

      @CPTDANIELS 2009 April 2009

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