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Water Music

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Alternate Cover Edition can be found here and here. T.C. Boyle's riotous first novel, now in a new edition for its 25th anniversary Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music, a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late ei Alternate Cover Edition can be found here and here. T.C. Boyle's riotous first novel, now in a new edition for its 25th anniversary Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music, a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late eighteenth century, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger.


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Alternate Cover Edition can be found here and here. T.C. Boyle's riotous first novel, now in a new edition for its 25th anniversary Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music, a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late ei Alternate Cover Edition can be found here and here. T.C. Boyle's riotous first novel, now in a new edition for its 25th anniversary Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music, a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late eighteenth century, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger.

30 review for Water Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors… The sun scorches the sky as if it were newly created, as if it were flexing its muscle, hammering out the first link in a chain of megatonic nuclear events, flaring up with all the confidence of youth and all the promise of eternal combustion. Which is to say it is hot. Damnably hot. And as quiet as the surface of some uninhabitable and forbidden planet. And there is nothing new under the sun except some new books… Water Musi There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors… The sun scorches the sky as if it were newly created, as if it were flexing its muscle, hammering out the first link in a chain of megatonic nuclear events, flaring up with all the confidence of youth and all the promise of eternal combustion. Which is to say it is hot. Damnably hot. And as quiet as the surface of some uninhabitable and forbidden planet. And there is nothing new under the sun except some new books… Water Music, named after Georg Friedrich Händel’s suite, written in the exotic language and boasting the exotic contents, is itself some sort of music – at the same time tragic and burlesque, the novel is a set of adventures and misadventures rolled into one thick volume of fortune. There is an antihero and antagonist: Ned Rise… Unawares or subconsciously T.C. Boyle has borrowed this character from John Masefield’s Dead Ned and turned him into a roguish misfit and unsinkable enthusiastic loser: Experience has taught Ned Rise a good many things – nearly all of them unpleasant. One thing it has taught him is to keep his assets liquid. Another is to wear a life jacket if you’re expecting heavy seas. He has also come to understand that the prudent homme des affaires never removes his shoes, keeps one eye propped open in repose, and never under any circumstances allows himself to enter a room with only one door. And, of course, there is a hero and protagonist: Mungo Park… A real historical personage – a renowned explorer and traveler seeking fame and glory: …he glances up from his eggs and drippings to scan the ruddy faces and long noses at the bar, pregnant with his secret, savoring the quiet incubation of his celebrity. If they only knew. He stifles a sudden impulse to shout it out, dance on the tables, set it to music and sing it to them, emblazon it on great drooping banners like bellying sails… But there is nothing in celebrity… Right from the beginning of the world man craves the new… Man wants the great unknown turned into the great known and one is ready to trade for this anything… even one’s own life.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    This is definitively Boyles best, also first, novel and it´s completely different than his other works. In general, Boyle is dark, close to depressing and the jokes are the same, good, but quite kind of hardcore dark comedy style. Water music is smooth, funny, clever and not in a 20th-century setting, as most of his other novels and I would be unable to say if it is the same author if I read this and one of his other novels after another. It criticizes colonialism, racism, white mans´ burden, slav This is definitively Boyles best, also first, novel and it´s completely different than his other works. In general, Boyle is dark, close to depressing and the jokes are the same, good, but quite kind of hardcore dark comedy style. Water music is smooth, funny, clever and not in a 20th-century setting, as most of his other novels and I would be unable to say if it is the same author if I read this and one of his other novels after another. It criticizes colonialism, racism, white mans´ burden, slavery and the mentality of the 18th century in a both funny and deep, meaningful way and I guess Boyle could have reached, like Matt Ruff and Christopher Moore, much more readers and fame, if he would have stayed both funny and critical instead of becoming dark and critical. Don´t get me wrong, I like all of his works, but they are really a downer and, as seen in this work, could be uppers instead. The great social critique he includes in his 20th century setting novels doesn´t get the appreciation it could have, because nobody likes to be made sad, and why he began writing like this, especially with a background in creative writing, makes no sense to me. A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._C._B... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_M...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    An ambitious but messy novel, which for me was more of a heroic failure than a triumphant success. I like the idea a lot: a fictionalised account of Mungo Park's travels to find the source of the Niger River, interspersed with the story of an invented London rogue called Ned Rise. The general approach is a sort of knockabout picaresque style, a comic novel of adventures, but unfortunately this does leave the whole thing feeling rather caricaturish. The London scenes in particular are like a cart An ambitious but messy novel, which for me was more of a heroic failure than a triumphant success. I like the idea a lot: a fictionalised account of Mungo Park's travels to find the source of the Niger River, interspersed with the story of an invented London rogue called Ned Rise. The general approach is a sort of knockabout picaresque style, a comic novel of adventures, but unfortunately this does leave the whole thing feeling rather caricaturish. The London scenes in particular are like a cartoon version of a Hogarth painting, though with even more willingness to dwell on the cheap sex and inhuman squalor of eighteenth-century city life. This two-dimensionality does cause problems with tone. There are some appalling stories in here, especially when it comes to the female characters. Poor Fanny Brunch goes from servitude to extended sadomasochistic rape and torture to drug addiction to losing a baby to…well, to a nasty end. If this is supposed to be social commentary then a roustabout comic style is the wrong way to do it: it just feels trivial and cruel. Similarly, the final third of the book builds to an unhappy climax for pretty much everyone. But because the characters have so little depth, it doesn't seem particularly moving or tragic. It just seems relentless, and actually kind of depressing. There are various other problems with the execution, some subjective, others more serious. I didn't like the way Boyle explained so much of his historical context. There are long paragraphs bringing readers up to speed on things like what the Sahel is, or where the Niger River is located. If you already know this, such passages feel patronising, and if you don't then it deprives you of the pleasure of investigating the novel's sidelines, chasing down references. The structure of the book is also a bit awkward, describing as it does both of Park's two African expeditions, with a detailed interlude in Scotland in between. The problem is that by the time we go back to West Africa for the final section of the novel, it feels like going backwards: we've seen it all before. Most crucially, though, I have no idea what this book is actually about. What's it all for? I mean some of the set-pieces are a lot of fun, and there are some enjoyable bits of dialogue, but – there's just nothing behind it. There are no unifying themes at all, just incidents. Boyle is clearly a huge Thomas Pynchon fan, and the book I couldn't help comparing this to was Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, another postmodern adventure novel about an eighteenth-century British explorer. Water Music does not emerge well from the comparison. Pynchon picked out little-known sidelines from the period – Vaucanson's mechanical duck, the transit of Venus – and he let the reader do at least half the work. For all Boyle's energetic prose style, his targets are too obvious or too cliché. Ultimately, Pynchon writes novels-of-ideas; Boyle doesn't seem to have any ideas. Without them, his rich vocabulary is left rudderless, and he throws words like hyetologist and remugient around a bit clumsily. OK I've probably gone too far now. This is by no means a bad novel, and I enjoyed reading it – it's just a bit frustrating because there is a much better book in there somewhere. This was TC Boyle's first, and I would definitely like to read some of his others and see how his style has matured. In this case I unfortunately felt a bit too much like Mungo Park myself – on an eventful journey, but without any clear idea of where I was going or why.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shincrackerfarm

    A third of the way through. I'm enjoying the read, but I'm still waiting for the "hilarious" part. Finished at last! If the Washington Post book reviewer had actually read this book, which I seriously doubt, he would have written a completely different comment. Rather than "hilarious", I would say Ned Rise's and Mungo Park's "adventures" crossing Africa were "disturbing". The plot is clever, the presentation spellbinding, the meaning, if any, obscure. No one ends up a happy camper afer all that so A third of the way through. I'm enjoying the read, but I'm still waiting for the "hilarious" part. Finished at last! If the Washington Post book reviewer had actually read this book, which I seriously doubt, he would have written a completely different comment. Rather than "hilarious", I would say Ned Rise's and Mungo Park's "adventures" crossing Africa were "disturbing". The plot is clever, the presentation spellbinding, the meaning, if any, obscure. No one ends up a happy camper afer all that so-called hilarity. Bottom line: If I had only one book with me, and this was it, I would read it. If I had two, not so much.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    A literary but compelling book from T.C. Boyle. It's his first novel, but worth reading. I'm enjoying it a lot, but then again, Boyle is one of my favorites. I've enjoyed his use of humor and historical settings in the past. Now that I'm done with the book, I'd have to say that it was a tragic comedy. It reminded me of Steinbeck in terms of the tragic nature of the characters and what happens to them. It was a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary books. I had to have my A literary but compelling book from T.C. Boyle. It's his first novel, but worth reading. I'm enjoying it a lot, but then again, Boyle is one of my favorites. I've enjoyed his use of humor and historical settings in the past. Now that I'm done with the book, I'd have to say that it was a tragic comedy. It reminded me of Steinbeck in terms of the tragic nature of the characters and what happens to them. It was a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary books. I had to have my dictionary handy though, so just know that it contains a lot of esoteric language. That's part of the fun of this one though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Another one from Boyle that was immensely enjoyable - funny, witty, bawdy, and sometimes shocking. Great writer! This book was Boyle's first novel. It's basically the story of Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer who was the first European to see the Niger River in Africa. During the first 3/4 of the novel, the story switches from Mungo's adventures to the story of Ned Rise a thief, scoundrel, and all-round con man in the filthy streets of late 18th century London. Although I did really enjoy Mungo Another one from Boyle that was immensely enjoyable - funny, witty, bawdy, and sometimes shocking. Great writer! This book was Boyle's first novel. It's basically the story of Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer who was the first European to see the Niger River in Africa. During the first 3/4 of the novel, the story switches from Mungo's adventures to the story of Ned Rise a thief, scoundrel, and all-round con man in the filthy streets of late 18th century London. Although I did really enjoy Mungo's adventures, Ned Rise has to be one of Boyle's most unforgettable characters. Just when he thinks he has the world by a string, disaster always seems to hit but he somehow always lands on his feet - he even survived his own hanging! Boyle's use of the English language is a marvel to behold. His vocabulary is never ending and his descriptive narrative is marvelous. He can make you feel like you are experiencing a place by just talking about it. For example his description of the streets of London during this time period makes you feel as if you are there: "At this time in history the streets of London were as foul, feculent and disease-ridden as a series of interconnected dunghills, twice as dangerous as a battlefield, and as infrequently maintained as the lower cells of an asylum dungeon....There was pigeonshit. Mud, coal dust, ashes, dead cats, dogs, rats, scraps of cloth stained with excrement, and worst of all, open sewers....Grim shopkeepers trudged out into the roadway to dump their chamberpots, barmen limed the walls outside their establishments to deaden the reek of urine, housekeepers flung buckets of nightsoil from second- and third-story windows... --not only was the pedestrian up to his ankles in human waste, he also found himself dodging the airborne clods thrown up by the wheels of passing carriages." All in all, another highly entertaining story from Boyle. High recommendation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Rex

    This book should've been 200 pages shorter. Way too long and not engaging enough. The characters and story-lines are funny and Boyle is an excellent writer, but he wasn't able to keep the attention over such a long period w/ this theme.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yvette

    Another great book by Boyle. It reminded me of every book you ever read--seriously--it had an element of all. A little Dickens, Conrad, Twain; an Odyssey! Some Shakespeare. I am completely amazed at the talents of this guy. And this was his first book. Still can't believe his command of the language and syntax. Yikes!

  9. 4 out of 5

    LenaRibka

    My husband forced me to read this book during our vacation. I just forgot to add it to my TBR. I have to create a single shelf for it, I think, because it is not what I normally read. But it is what my husband reads and likes. I liked it too.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Woodge

    One of my favorite books of all time. I want to re-read it. Thrilling, adventurous, funny, sad, unusual, and beautifully told.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carol Wagers

    I read this ages ago: absolutely loved it, the picaresque humor appealed to me so much. TC Boyle is one of my favorite writers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    gorecki

    Boyle’s imagination is inexhaustible and the stories he weaves are finely and masterfully detailed and entertaining. I am not a fan of comedy books and funny literature, I prefer my reads full of drama, crying, and misery – the darker the better. But this one made me chuckle, shiver, and then contemplate on how high a price people sometimes pay in order to achieve their biggest dreams. T.C. Boyle tells the story of Mungo Park, a Scottish doctor and explorer set to map the river Niger, suffering Boyle’s imagination is inexhaustible and the stories he weaves are finely and masterfully detailed and entertaining. I am not a fan of comedy books and funny literature, I prefer my reads full of drama, crying, and misery – the darker the better. But this one made me chuckle, shiver, and then contemplate on how high a price people sometimes pay in order to achieve their biggest dreams. T.C. Boyle tells the story of Mungo Park, a Scottish doctor and explorer set to map the river Niger, suffering through numerous diseases and fending off constant attacks in Africa of the 1800s. In parallel, we read the story of the fictional character Ned Rise – a con-man, fraud, and body snatcher, out of luck since forever. The story is very fast paced and full of events, but with great attention to details. It switches between stories and characters masterfully, juggling with events the way a prestidigitator would pull tricks at a traveling carnival. There’s a lot of sex, grime, dirt, and inappropriate humor in this one, but in a light and entertaining way. It definitely took my mind off things and gave me a breath of fresh air. I’ll be looking out for more Boyle for sure!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    By the time this novel was released, T. C. Boyle had already proven himself to be a master of the short story. Obviously, his first novel was highly-anticipated, and if it had been a clunker, it might have destoryed an otherwise promising career. Fortunately for him (and for anyone lucky enough to read this novel), Boyle hits a grand slam out of the park on his first step up to the plate. Boyle's first novel, set in the late eighteenth century, chronicles the partnership of British thief and whor By the time this novel was released, T. C. Boyle had already proven himself to be a master of the short story. Obviously, his first novel was highly-anticipated, and if it had been a clunker, it might have destoryed an otherwise promising career. Fortunately for him (and for anyone lucky enough to read this novel), Boyle hits a grand slam out of the park on his first step up to the plate. Boyle's first novel, set in the late eighteenth century, chronicles the partnership of British thief and whoremaster Ned Rise and Scottish explorer Mungo Park. Together, they attempt to traverse the Niger River into the heart of Africa. The mission is a failure and neither is ever seen or heard from again. This hilarious and bawdy novel explains, for the first time, what happened. Boyle's best work is often quite playful with historical figures and this novel is no exception. It's quite funny, exceptionally well-written, and impossible to put down.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Doiron

    This book was definitely entertaining during its first half. During the first Niger exploration, i found myself enthralled in the characters and whatever happened to them. However, the second trip to the Niger, i just couldn't care less. Although i have to give credit to TC Boyle for being an extremely talented writer with amazing details and humor (even if Water Music is the only book of his that i read), i found this story just too long for what it was worth in the end. I'm just glad it's over This book was definitely entertaining during its first half. During the first Niger exploration, i found myself enthralled in the characters and whatever happened to them. However, the second trip to the Niger, i just couldn't care less. Although i have to give credit to TC Boyle for being an extremely talented writer with amazing details and humor (even if Water Music is the only book of his that i read), i found this story just too long for what it was worth in the end. I'm just glad it's over!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steve Ochs

    I'll get into more detail when if I can find a moment, but T.C. Boyle is my favorite author these days and this book, his first, is a sprawling epic that blends intense danger with hilarity! I know; that's impossible. Not in the hands of Boyle. If you think you'd enjoy the cultural quirkiness of Confederacy of Dunces in a smash up with the humidity and adventure of Michael Crichton's Congo, this book will make you very happy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I'm not sure if I loved or hated this book. Loved!: 1) the exquisite wordplay 2) the fun vocabulary 3) some parts were hilarious Hated!: 1) the plot was meandering and not well crafted 2) too ribald for my taste 3) bad ending Fun book club choice!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kunal Basu-dutta

    I really enjoyed this book. A roller-coaster of hilarity, pathos, and despondency (a combination as odd as it is wonderful). The first book I thought of when reading this was "Heart of Darkness" which, I believe, makes sense what with the exploration of the "dark continent" and the Congo. That, however, is the only real connection. Boyle throws his characters into the worst of situations and then, after a glimmer of hope, makes it even more terrible. You end up aching for any of them to come out I really enjoyed this book. A roller-coaster of hilarity, pathos, and despondency (a combination as odd as it is wonderful). The first book I thought of when reading this was "Heart of Darkness" which, I believe, makes sense what with the exploration of the "dark continent" and the Congo. That, however, is the only real connection. Boyle throws his characters into the worst of situations and then, after a glimmer of hope, makes it even more terrible. You end up aching for any of them to come out on top, to get a small victory. And they all get them. (Described at the bottom. Full of spoilers.) This book is rich and a must-read. It was hard for me to not laugh or exclaim out loud at times, but I had to since it was 3 in the morning. SPOILERS! Mungo Park comes out of Africa alive, lauded as a hero, and hoisted by London's upper crust which leads to his pain of writing a book, obsession with returning, and finally his doomed second excursion into Africa. Ned Rise makes money and finds love only to be hung, resurrected, shipped to a prison camp. However, he ends up as a kind of god, almost Pan, among the pygmies who find him. However, Ailie is perhaps my favorite character. She is unfaltering in her faith and love, except once. She waits for Mungo for years and pushes away the advances of Georgie Gleg. After Mungo goes off the second time, she is furious. When Gleg comes around again, she accepts him graciously as host to talk and chat and fill an empty space in her life. On the lake of his family's loch, he tries to fill more of her, and at that moment, she sees a monster. Through all her misery and anguish, after spending so much time fuming at Mungo for leaving, she loves him and waits for him. It is quite touching.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Adelson

    The first novel of the always funny and insanely observant T. Coraghessan Boyle, Water Music is an historical and satirical examination of two sadly misguided, yet somehow majestic and even glorious tragic heroes—conman Ned Rise and the great adventurer Mungo Park. Taking place largely in Imperial British West Africa, the novel’s lavish language and plot are as twisted as its main characters who come together in the late-1770s/early-1800s in a quest to find fame and fortune—and the source of the The first novel of the always funny and insanely observant T. Coraghessan Boyle, Water Music is an historical and satirical examination of two sadly misguided, yet somehow majestic and even glorious tragic heroes—conman Ned Rise and the great adventurer Mungo Park. Taking place largely in Imperial British West Africa, the novel’s lavish language and plot are as twisted as its main characters who come together in the late-1770s/early-1800s in a quest to find fame and fortune—and the source of the Niger River. Tapping into the imagination of discovery, the relationship between the reader and the novel’s landscape—notably the river itself—is cemented early on and lasts through to the (fabulously) bitter end. Guaranteed you’ll find yourself more than once wiping the sweat off your brow in heat of the African day.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    Not bad, for a verbose, larger-than-life, comic novel. But there were still parts I skimmed. I'm just too ADHD to sit through elaborate page upon page descriptions of deepest darkest Africa as seen by a Victorian explorer. But like I said, overall this was not bad. Some of the interludes about side characters (e.g. Dassoud) were very entertaining. T.C. Boyle can definitely write. To me his best book is The Road to Wellville-- I liked that so much that all the other books of his I've read since t Not bad, for a verbose, larger-than-life, comic novel. But there were still parts I skimmed. I'm just too ADHD to sit through elaborate page upon page descriptions of deepest darkest Africa as seen by a Victorian explorer. But like I said, overall this was not bad. Some of the interludes about side characters (e.g. Dassoud) were very entertaining. T.C. Boyle can definitely write. To me his best book is The Road to Wellville-- I liked that so much that all the other books of his I've read since then live in its shadow.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Absolutely one of my most favourite books! The best story - connecting luck and bad luck, love and hate, friendship and treachery, civilisation and the human character to accept exclusively the familiar - I've read in ... my whole life, I guess.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thekelburrows

    I! NEED! A! NAP!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'm not even sure where to begin with my evaluation of Water Music. I smiled often and laughed time and again, whether at Ned's fake nose and caviar sales, or the scene where he returns to his hired carriage dressed as a woman and the coachman and his partner refuse to let him aboard, thinking him a woman looking to poach the conveyance (this latter was one of the funniest scenes I've ever read -- "All right: fuck you both, then..." -- and, tonally, put me in mind of a terrifically funny scene f I'm not even sure where to begin with my evaluation of Water Music. I smiled often and laughed time and again, whether at Ned's fake nose and caviar sales, or the scene where he returns to his hired carriage dressed as a woman and the coachman and his partner refuse to let him aboard, thinking him a woman looking to poach the conveyance (this latter was one of the funniest scenes I've ever read -- "All right: fuck you both, then..." -- and, tonally, put me in mind of a terrifically funny scene from Peter Carey's Illywhacker). In the end, one of the things I loved best about the novel was how it managed to juggle such a diverse gamut of tones and effects (bawdy humor, farcical humor, bracing horror, sublime pathos, real tenderness, exhilarating suspense) with such assurance. And because of that, I was never quite sure in what direction Boyle was leading me -- what begins as an elaborate, nonsensical comedy becomes, over the course of the book, a riff on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a meditation on the general trajectories most of our lives follow (the preposterous silliness and disregard of youth giving way, over the years, to recklessness with the hearts and lives of others, to love and sacrifice and selfish folly and the slow epiphanies about what we believe our destinies are meant to be and what, in fact, our destinies are meant to be). The fact that Boyle, in a single book, could give us something as funny as Ned-in-drag trying to persuade the coachman that he is Ned-in-truth (or graverobbing Billy Boyles stumbling upon graverobbing Ned Rise and -- because he had seen Ned executed -- flying into hysterics, thinking he has seen a ghost) and something like the scene where the remnants of Mungo & Co, emaciated and beards to their waists, float past the scene of a family looking to defend itself from a horde of hyenas in absolute darkness save for the light from a torch wielded "like an archangel's sword" -- well, it's astounding. And this brings me to Boyle's spectacular facility with metaphors and similes. Few contemporary writers manage to describe their invented worlds as precisely and evocatively as Boyle does here. Is the language poetic in the spare late-20 century or early-21st century sense? No -- but it's extraordinarily luxurious without forsaking precision, which is very difficult to pull off. It is prose in the vein of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, which is to say prose in the vein of Charles Dickens -- poetic in the fierce aptness of its vision of environment and individuals and era: air "sharp as a bloodletter's lancet" (16), fires "strung across the plain like a fallen constellation" (80), a young woman with a grin "like wheatfields in the sun" (124), an infant sleeping "still as a portrait" (325), antelope "skitter[ing] through the trees like a fall of leaves" (328), a dying man's pulse "as faint and intermittent as the rattle of a broken pocketwatch" (368). I could read prose like this all my life long. Indeed, however slow my progress through the book (I read Dickens at a pace of twelve pages an hour, and you'll never see me resenting Dickens for not reading at the clip at which I read Dan Brown), I feel blessed for having spent so many hours in the presence of prose like this. And it isn't just the prose, either, for the novel would be a hollow artifact -- whatever its afforded aesthetic pleasures -- if that were the case. Its commentaries were heartening and powerful, too: the emphasis on the value of the written word (e.g. Johnson and Mungo literally using written snatches of text as currency, and Johnson/Isaaco demanding to be paid for his services as a guide in first editions of books), the perilous and offensive nature of colonial arrogance, the degree to which ambition can be ungovernable (and the devastation such ambition can impart), man's inhumanity to man (we cringe at the humiliation and abuse of Fatima, at Mungo & Co slaughtering black women and children from a distance because it doesn't occur to them that black human beings in their wake might be other than Moorish men bent on violence, at Mungo shooting an unarmed man in a tree). I also find myself in awe at certain sections of the novel in which Boyle seems to have captured the experience of an event as well as it might be captured -- the chapter ("In Sadness") in which Ailie gives birth to her last child seems uncannily true to the experience (the sensations, the sounds, the delirium) of giving birth as I imagine it would be, while the bottleneck ambush at the Boussa left me likely holding my breath as I read. Stunning imaginative recreations of life beginning and ending... Back to the parallels between Water Music and Oscar and Lucinda -- it isn't just the bric-a-brac quality of the prose itself, or the short snapshot chapters, but also the similarities between Ailie's obsession with the microscopic world and Theophilus Hopkins's work as a naturalist (let me also say how intrigued I was by the juxtaposition of Ailie's finding grandeur in the microscopic with Mungo's failure to appreciate the nuances innate in the grandiosity of his adventures), the expeditions -- outfitted as with martinets in braces -- into uncharted and hostile lands in both books, even specific narrative situations: Mungo's objection to the enslaving of others ("But these are human beings") echoing Oscar's objection to Jeffris's treatment of the aborigines; the emphases on river crossings within the expeditions in both books; Boyles's creation of Jimmy M'Inelli, "a decent sort who could handle a deck of cards better with one hand than most people could manipulate a knife and fork with two" and Carey's creation of Jimmy d'Abbs, the upstanding citizen who also lives a disreputable existence as a gambler (the first names being the same and the weirdly apostrophized last names and the gift with playing cards the two share suggesting an homage to Boyle's book in Carey's)... Also worth singling out is the novel's play with improbable coincidence or spiderwebbing of destinies. This is Dickensian bread-and-butter (not to mention the the foundation on which Kieslowski's Three Colors and Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogies are constructed), and I can remember neither friend nor former classmate of mine ever doing anything other than relishing Dickens making the same kinds of unlikely links between characters that Boyle does here. And to my mind, Boyle hits it out of the park (no pun intended) -- doing Dickens as well as Dickens. As to the graphic nature of the abuse suffered by Fatima (an issue with some readers, if the temperature among the members of my book club is any indication): I really felt like it was a spectacular way of accounting for her eventual hyperbolic obesity. Boyle convinces us that she has become almost a physical specimen of legend only by knitting her feelings about food to something unimaginably horrific -- her size becomes not the result of a love of Twinkies (or, here, couscous), but the result of eating in a fruitless attempt to reclaim food (or even the idea of nourishment) from trauma. And that implied explanation only works if we're given the trauma as it would be experienced. Anyway -- I just found the book a real treasure, and an unexpected treasure, I have to say. I was hoping it would be good, but I had no reason to think it would fall so snugly into the wheelhouse of my aesthetic preferences. Water Music was a challenging novel, true, but worth its weight in gold, as I see it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A hysterical, inventive, exotic, thought provoking, and wildly entertaining novel for about three quarters of the book, but it ultimately ends on a bit of a sour note. After having read "The Women", "Water Music" is the second T.C. Boyle novel that I've tackled this past year, and while I absolutely love his writing style and whimsical use of language to describe and accentuate his story ("an out of sorts baboon", "even the sailors- the elder of whom once rode out a typhoon off the Marquesas- ha A hysterical, inventive, exotic, thought provoking, and wildly entertaining novel for about three quarters of the book, but it ultimately ends on a bit of a sour note. After having read "The Women", "Water Music" is the second T.C. Boyle novel that I've tackled this past year, and while I absolutely love his writing style and whimsical use of language to describe and accentuate his story ("an out of sorts baboon", "even the sailors- the elder of whom once rode out a typhoon off the Marquesas- have to concede that this takes the cake", "inspired, the explorer attempts a sort of grand jeté, springing across the room like an antelope"), both novels seem to go from high comedy to high despair, and I always leave the book feeling slightly depressed. I'm not sure if Boyle does this on purpose, or if he really struggles with tone in his novels. If you are a fan of the written word and all the possible ways it can be manipulated and tweaked in delightful ways- Boyle makes up terminology and slang and uses anachronisms with abandon- then I recommend this book to you. I am always astounded by his use of language, so much so that I often want to cry with frustration and beat my fists against the wall in admiration, awe, and something akin to envy. Why can't I write this well?!! But alas, a bundle of clever bon mots does not a complete story make. The first third of the book feels much like a short story collection with no real through-line, and indeed, Boyle wrote several of the "chapters" as short stand-alone pieces that were published previously in various magazines. Eventually he attempted to compile all the pieces to form a novel. It only partially works. The two main characters- Ned Rise and Mungo Park- often lead separate lives for much of the book (it's somewhat difficult to see how the two relate to each other since they are strangers) and only come together towards the end. We follow Ned as he struggles to survive and con his way to wealth and happiness in 1790s London and at the same time we follow African explorer Mungo Park (a real historical figure) as he attempts to be the first European to sight and navigate the Niger river. In various points of the novel, we follow minor characters- Ailie Anderson, Mungo's wife and Fanny Brunch, paramour to Ned Rise- but they are never fully flushed out as either Mungo or Ned. Again, as I mentioned above, I found the first 3/4 or so of the novel to be a good read, even if it did feel like two separate stories combined into a disjointed single narrative. Reading about Park's adventures- he's portrayed here as a highly ambitious dreamer and incompetent fop- was utterly entertaining. Ned Rise's adventures in London were equally entertaining, but somewhere around the midway point, the story starts to sag and flounder. Ned escapes death- again. Mungo goes back to Africa- again. Mungo's guide Johnson, who is eaten by a crocodile in the first half, turns out to not be dead. Ailie is abandoned and wonders what to do with herself- again. Somewhere halfway into the novel a reset button was pushed and we are again plunged into very similar trials and travails that the characters experienced in the first half of the novel. And, for all the campiness and whimsy present in the first half, the novel starts to take a definite grave turn towards the end. It made me wonder what this book was really about. I admire that Boyle turned a much beloved and well-known British explorer's adventures into a sort of comedy of errors exploration of Africa, but what was the point of the story as a whole? And what of Ned Rise, whose own story only slightly parallels Park's until the last quarter of the book? Was this about the folly of ambition? Beware the naive egoist? Sad tales of the white man's ignorance and treatment towards Africans? A satirical account of the dismal class system and out of touch government in early 19th century Georgian England? It could have been about all of the above, but the story never really grasped onto a clear and definite theme. It came down ultimately to tone. Was this a comedy or drama? Ned Rise's London certainly couldn't be compared to the niceties and social graces portrayed in a Jane Austen novel. His London is foul, corrupt, abysmal, and just plain gross. Yet for all the dirt and grime, we are still laughing. Same thing with Mungo Park- he's ignorant, inept, and completely disrespectful towards African culture, but it is all played for a farce. By novel's end, I'm more puzzled than enlightened. I will still keep reading Boyle. His novels never fail to astound and confound me, but I'm not giving up! If for nothing else, read the book for the history of early British exploration of Africa and the truly horrific conditions in England at the time. I found this the most eye-opening!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in September 2002. The Georgian England portrayed in Hogarth's etchings is the inspiration for Boyle's lusty historical novel. Its spiritual home, where its best passages are set, is the gin soaked city of London, its alleys and gutters, whores and thieves. That is also the origin of one of Water Music's main characters, con man, vagabond, grave robber and would-be gentleman Ned Rise. His struggles against a capricious fate - every time he begins to make money Originally published on my blog here in September 2002. The Georgian England portrayed in Hogarth's etchings is the inspiration for Boyle's lusty historical novel. Its spiritual home, where its best passages are set, is the gin soaked city of London, its alleys and gutters, whores and thieves. That is also the origin of one of Water Music's main characters, con man, vagabond, grave robber and would-be gentleman Ned Rise. His struggles against a capricious fate - every time he begins to make money, some disaster leaves him worse off than before - make his adventures entertaining reading. He is a comic rather than a realistic character, so the reader doesn't identify with him enough to feel much sympathy when his fortunes fail. The major part of the novel, however, is set in West Africa, accompanying explorer Mungo Park's expeditions to the Niger river. The inhospitable country - the arid Sahel of his first trip, the jungle of the second - is more a commentary on the London scenes than a contrast with them. The misadventures of Park are reminiscent of Flashman (without the cowardice or a large part of the humour) and, even after Rise joins him, are unsatisfying. Without Park, Water Music might well have been considered rather derivative of The Rake's Progress (both the sequence of prints and the opera based on them). Neverthess, it could have become the germ of a work which would be more satisfying than the novel as it is. Water Music is also reminiscent of Moll Flanders, though Defoe wrote many years before Boyle's novel is set. (Mind you, Handel's Water Music was also the product of earlier decades of the eighteenth century.) In a note at the beginning of Water Music, Boyle warns the reader not to expect historical accuracy in the novel. He was interested in the feel of the years around 1800, not in getting all the details right. In many historical novels, though, the effectiveness of the background is a consequence of the author's research. At first sight, Boyle's not might seem to be an attempt to cover up laziness, but he clearly must have done some research, at least reading up on Park. In the end, there is probably little less that is historically inaccurate about Water Music than there is about many novels in the genre, even if it is clear that the London that it portrays is based more on Hogarth's drawings than on more sober descriptions. Boyle's disclaimer made me expect something like a fantasy novel which borrows some of its ideas from a historical setting, something like Jill Paton Walsh's Knowledge of Angels, or a cavalier treatment of history like the very silly George MacDonald Fraser Pyrates. This sort of freer setting might actually have suited Boyle better, though I found it difficult to see what he intended to say through Water Music, if anything. I was interested and amused enough to read to the end of Water Music, but not, in the final reckoning, sufficiently impressed to bother looking out for any of Boyle's other novels.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    Alright, it’s chaotic and it tends to be too much in terms of sex, violence, and disgust. And still, we’re at the end of the 18th century in places like London and African countries like (nowadays) the Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Niger. I can readily believe that it were stinking and dangerous places, that people at that time killed when necessary or even just for a profit, that life and survival was hardship and struggle. For that, I found it extremely interesting to have the story of Ned Rise, a Alright, it’s chaotic and it tends to be too much in terms of sex, violence, and disgust. And still, we’re at the end of the 18th century in places like London and African countries like (nowadays) the Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Niger. I can readily believe that it were stinking and dangerous places, that people at that time killed when necessary or even just for a profit, that life and survival was hardship and struggle. For that, I found it extremely interesting to have the story of Ned Rise, a man of the poorest origins, born, grown up and fighting for a life in London intertwined with the story of Mungo Park, a man of middle class origins from the Scottish Highlands, with a dream in life and prospects to achieve it. How T.C. Boyle makes the two stories meet is just another example of his storytelling crafts, which are already so apparent in this first novel of his. It should be mentioned that Mungo Park existed and that his expeditions did happen. T.C. Boyle quite likely accomplished a huge work of research and piecing together information to write this book. I hugely enjoyed the way T.C. Boyle describes and develops his characters, above all the tough and persistent but never quite succeeding Ned Rise, the clumsy and idealistic but rather naïve Mungo Park, and the strong female characters that I so love in T. C. Boyle’s stories, here Ailie, Mungo’s wife and Fanny, Ned’s lover.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    This is a beautifully written book, but not in a way that is distracting from the interesting and imaginative plot. It's the kind of writing that you barely even notice (a good thing, to my mind). The characters, though not exactly real, were full - reading it is right in between a myth and a Virginia Woolf novel, which is basically perfect. It's funny where it means to be with suspense in all the right places. In fact, the only reason I can't give it five stars is pretty stupid: there's an almo This is a beautifully written book, but not in a way that is distracting from the interesting and imaginative plot. It's the kind of writing that you barely even notice (a good thing, to my mind). The characters, though not exactly real, were full - reading it is right in between a myth and a Virginia Woolf novel, which is basically perfect. It's funny where it means to be with suspense in all the right places. In fact, the only reason I can't give it five stars is pretty stupid: there's an almost maddening repetition of "stentorian" and "antediluvian" - which are more noticeable to me because I didn't know them before I read the book. So people who already know those words will have no roadblocks to complete adoration.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daily Alice

    This book is an adventure through the lives of two very different men whose path's cross on an African expedition in the 18th Century. The story is funny, moving, bawdy & shocking in equal measure. I was never sure how it would turn out in the end. One of the best books I've read in a while. Wonderfully descriptive writing, a cracking tale with well drawn & believable characters, full of strange twists & coincidences as well as surprises. Laughing out loud in some places, catching sobs in my thro This book is an adventure through the lives of two very different men whose path's cross on an African expedition in the 18th Century. The story is funny, moving, bawdy & shocking in equal measure. I was never sure how it would turn out in the end. One of the best books I've read in a while. Wonderfully descriptive writing, a cracking tale with well drawn & believable characters, full of strange twists & coincidences as well as surprises. Laughing out loud in some places, catching sobs in my throat in others, shaking my head at the foolishness, admiring the bravery. Full of all this and more, a really good read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ulrich

    This is one of the big classics everyone should read. This was my first TC Boyle book and I am a follower since them. He wrote some pretty boring books, too, like “Budding Prospect” which was very boring and stopped me from reading another Boyle book for years, but he got me back with “After the plague”. “Water Music” is a travel story. Never boring, very entertaining, funny and sometimes you even learn something about discovering the dark continent. Sometimes hilarious, “spoiler” when one of th This is one of the big classics everyone should read. This was my first TC Boyle book and I am a follower since them. He wrote some pretty boring books, too, like “Budding Prospect” which was very boring and stopped me from reading another Boyle book for years, but he got me back with “After the plague”. “Water Music” is a travel story. Never boring, very entertaining, funny and sometimes you even learn something about discovering the dark continent. Sometimes hilarious, “spoiler” when one of the main characters has to carry a chicken around his neck till it falls off. A must-read for everyone.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    "The year was 1795. George III was dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with his own spittle, the Notables were botching things in France, Goya was deaf, De Quincey a depraved pre-adolescent. George Bryan 'Beau' Brummell was smoothing down his first starched collar, Young Ludwig van Beethoven, beetle-browed and twenty-four, was wowing them in Vienna with his Piano Concerto no. 2, and Ned Rise was drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig & Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane." You can "The year was 1795. George III was dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with his own spittle, the Notables were botching things in France, Goya was deaf, De Quincey a depraved pre-adolescent. George Bryan 'Beau' Brummell was smoothing down his first starched collar, Young Ludwig van Beethoven, beetle-browed and twenty-four, was wowing them in Vienna with his Piano Concerto no. 2, and Ned Rise was drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig & Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane." You can only tell the truth with fiction. A historical novel of guzzle and grizzle, about Scottish explorer Mungo Park and oh-so-much-more. My new favourite novel.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Randal

    T. Coraghessan Boyle is a tremendous teller of vivid tales. I prefer his short fiction, which is perhaps why this is my favorite among his novels. It was originally developed as a series of short stories featuring the Mungo Park character in Paris Review, then reworked, adding the Dickensian character of Ned Rise, whose life provides the counterpoint. Alternating between the two as their lives rise, fall and ultimately converge, the novel rushes along. It's hilarious and serious, sad and wry. It T. Coraghessan Boyle is a tremendous teller of vivid tales. I prefer his short fiction, which is perhaps why this is my favorite among his novels. It was originally developed as a series of short stories featuring the Mungo Park character in Paris Review, then reworked, adding the Dickensian character of Ned Rise, whose life provides the counterpoint. Alternating between the two as their lives rise, fall and ultimately converge, the novel rushes along. It's hilarious and serious, sad and wry. It practically revels in the filth and muck of its settings in both London and West Africa, along with the depredations of its characters. Grand storytelling in the finest traditions.

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