Author: Paul Bailey
NetGalley Synopsis: Stuck in a hospital and heavily medicated, Harry Chapman doesn’t just hear the doctors, nurses, and other patients. Is that the voice of his mother, acerbic and disappointed in him as ever? Perhaps her presence would be understandable enough, but what is Pip from Great Expectations doing in his hospital room? More and more voices join the chorus: friends from childhood, lovers, characters from novels and poetry. His father, fighting in World War I. Babar and Céleste, who dances with Fred Astaire. Jane Austen’s Emma. Harry’s aunt Rose, “a stranger to moodiness.” A man who wants to sell Harry T. S. Eliot’s teeth. And, of course, an old friend who turns up at Harry’s bedside principally to rehearse the litany of his own ailments.
Slowly, endearingly, the life of Harry Chapman coalesces before our eyes, through voices real and imagined. Written with a gentle, effortless generosity, full of delicate observation, Chapman’s Odyssey is the work of a master; a superbly rendered act of storytelling and ventriloquism that is stinging, witty, deeply moving, and wise by turns, but always explores the nature of love.
Let me begin with the technical stuff –
I understand that this was first published as a “physical” book. However the transition to digital was less than seamless. There was no cover image. The list of other titles by Bailey, the copyright page, Library of Congress info and dedication were all smushed together and right up against the first chapter.
One thing that was difficult for me to get around was that there were no quotation marks; speech was denoted by a dash (-) instead of quotation marks. Also, conversations were kind of squished together. I’m having trouble coming up with a way to explain this properly, so let me give an example:
-That’s because my mother’s Scottish. She brought me up. Mr. Chapman, I’m not here to talk about myself. -Come closer Dr. Pereira. I want to get a good look at you. (Location 55 of 2221, NetGalley Kindle edition)
I hope the above is a better explanation: a conversation between Dr. Pereira (first speaker) and Mr. Chapman (second speaker) but their sentences were bumped up against each other instead of being on separate lines. Make sense? (I hope so!)
Okay, those were my only issues with the technical aspect of the novel. Onto the meat of the story…
Overall, it was a decent story. It was hard for me to pick up when different people and literary figures first popped up in conversation with Harry or when he was having flashback. Some of the stories were interesting, and I did begin to feel for Harry. Essentially, he is in his 70s, sick in the hospital and doesn’t really know if he will make it out alive. He begins to have conversations (with people actually there and others in his head). Through these conversations we get glimpses into his life. He is a curious old man, and I enjoyed learning more about his life. When he read the obituary of his good friend from childhood, I felt sad for him. But was glad to have “seen” memories of that friend.
A thought that crossed my mind while reading was that this would probably translate fairly well into a movie. I think the flashbacks and conversations would be conveyed better on the screen with all the different technologies available today. For example, we would know his dead mother was talking to him if we heard a disembodied voice or saw a shadow sitting in the room. It was harder to see it at first in the book as all speech was written the same way. Maybe it would have been better to differentiate by using italics or bold or even different fonts. But then I wouldn’t want it to get too distracting and silly looking.
Overall, I would recommend it, though I would suggest checking it out in hardcover or paperback due to the formatting issues.
This review reflects my honest opinion and I was not compensated for it.