Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Francis Orme may be one of the greatest characters in literature, not because he is warm and lovable (quite the contrary) but because of the way he draws strong emotional reactions from the reader. This reader is no exception. I went from feeling suspicious about him to really wondering about his motives to loathing him to fearing him to admiring his quirkiness (an understatement, to be sure) to feeling a bit of sympathy for him to feeling a flood of pity for him to hating him to loving him - in that order. I'm sure that the flow of emotions is different for different readers, but I've spoken to others who felt the same evocation of emotion drawn out of them and into the book. Observatory Mansions is a bit of a game, a tug-of-war of the heart and mind between the antipodes of love and hatred. There's no strength of plot, and some are quick to point out that they grew bored of the book at the beginning. I say, stick with it. The book is full of rewards and will pull at your inner-self for years afterwards. It's a bit like working with a complex recipe. You'll need time to put it all together - it's not overpowered by any one ingredient, but forms a subtle mix of setting, plot, character, and atmosphere seasoned by Carey's supple style. I would rate this near the top of my favorite books of all time. If I were to use all the superlatives I wanted to in describing how great this book is, you'd think I was engaging in hyperbole. But I wouldn't be. Please read this book.
PS: Important safety tip - I wasn't nearly as impressed by Carey's "Alva and Irva," which was a good book, but nothing of the caliber of Observatory Mansions. Observatory Mansions is one of those "perfect storm" books that every writer wishes he or she had written, but which pours forth out of an author's pen only once in a lifetime. Yes, it's that good.
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