Book Review: Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann


Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann
Random House
2009
375 pages

Now this is a first.

I’d heard a lot of (mostly positive) buzz about Let the Great World Spin, so I was thrilled when I saw it at the library. The borrowed copy, then, was the one that kept me absolutely enthralled and enchanted during every reading opportunity I had this week. 

I absolutely love this book. 

I love Let the Great World Spin so much that the moment I was finished, I promptly bought a copy for my Kindle. 

When I told The Husband what I had done, he looked at me like I’d just sprouted another head.

“Let me get this straight,” he said, amused.  “You just purchased a book that you just finished reading for free.”

“Yes,” I answered, adding that it is for the Kindle and it was only $6.17.  (Not like I have to justify my every purchase to him,  because I don’t.)

“The price doesn’t matter,” he said.  “You work too.  It’s just … you bought a book that you just read?!”

Now, dear literary ones, I know I don’t have to explain this to you either … because you get it, don’t you?  You know what it is like to have a book capture your heart and soul so much that you can’t bear to return it to the library.  You HAVE to OWN it.  You have to have it near you at all times, because you never know when you are going to want to – make that, need to – re-read it. There are, quite simply, some books that you need to own. 

And Let the Great World Spin, my lovelies, is absolutely one such book. 

I’m not above buying a print copy either, if the price is right. 

Suffice it to say that I love, love, love this book.  LOVE. IT. 

In this National Book Award winning novel, Colum McCann transports his reader to New York on August 7, 1974. There, high atop the city and on a wire strung between the newly constructed World Trade Center towers (which are not even at half their full office capacity), is tightrope walker Phillipe Petit, strolling and soft-shoeing his way across the skyscrapers, 110 stories above the concrete jungle below. 

But although the fundambulist’s story is at the center of the novel, Let the Great World Spin is really about the stories of those who witnessed this daring act and those whose lives were therefore affected by it.  While the tightrope walk really did happen, the fictitious literary liberties taken by McCann are within these stories.  As with Olive Kitteridge (another novel within stories that I adored), all of these characters are not simply witnesses; they are all connected. How McCann shows this while drawing his reader into a New York of August 1974 – a time when the Bronx was burning, a time defined by Vietnam and boys who didn’t make it home – is the brilliance of this novel. 

The characters who inhabit this world are vivid, incredibly true to life and alive on the pages.  We see Tillie and Jazzlyn, a mother-daughter prostitute pair living in the Bronx.  We see Corrigan, an Irish immigrant and priest who is one of the more complex characters in the novel, and his brother Ciaran who is stymied as to how best to help.  There’s Claire, a grieving mother whose only child was killed in Vietnam despite working on computer programs and seeing a future that included computers being interlinked and having the ability to communicate with one another.  There’s Gloria.  There’s Lara. 

Let the Great World Spin is about the everyday (a car crash, a judge presiding over a case, a group of ladies gathering for tea) and the extraordinary. 

It is about the extraordinary moments in the everyday. 

Sometimes, for me, the very best books are the hardest to review.  That’s the case with this one, because there is so very much within these pages.

I usually don’t select a “best book of the year,” but if I did (and I may this year), this is a very likely contender.  It was that good.

OK, I’ll stop.  Here are a few other reviews (most of which, whether they liked it are not, are a bit more articulate and more substantial than the OMG! THIS IS AH-MAAAZZ-ZING! one that has turned out to be). 

Read this book. 

Jennifer from 5 Minutes for Books
A Book A Week
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook
Bibliophile by the Sea
Booking Mama
Caribou’s Mom
Daisy’s Book Journal
Evening All Afternoon
Literary License
Literate Housewife
My Friend Amy
Reading Matters
Ready When You Are, C.B.
S. Krishna’s Books
She is Too Fond of Books (nice catch there, Dawn, with the plastic bags!  You are right.)
Shelf Life
You’ve GOTTA Read This!

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Songdogs, by Colum McCann | melissa firman

  2. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: My Two-Exclamation Point Worthy Bookish Boyfriend (and Our Upcoming Date) | melissa firman

  3. Mindy Withrow

    I sometimes buy books that I’ve already read, too, especially when I know I’ll be reading them again. And there are certain authors that I just have to own all of their books! I didn’t rank this one in my absolute favorites, but I did find it impressive in scope and artistic in the storytelling, and definite deserving of the NBA. Enjoyed your review!

  4. IntrovertedJen

    My family thinks that I’m weird for asking for books that I’ve already read. But they are ones who became dear friends and I need to know that there’s at least one copy out there that is being lovingly cared for! And, like you said, who knows when I will need to re-read it?

    This was already on my tbr list, but if it hadn’t been, I would have added it after this glowing review!

  5. Kate

    Oh – also wanted to let you know I linked this post over at “Kate’s Library” as part of my Friday Five.

    Have a great weekend!

  6. JoAnn

    I LOVED this, too! It was so good on audio that I feel like I ‘experienced’ it rather than read it… a favorite from 2010.

  7. Kate

    That’s it – I’ve heard so many people raving about this book, and your review just became the deciding factor. This is my next read!

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