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The Waterworks

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,835 ratings  ·  158 reviews
“An elegant page-turner of nineteenth-century detective fiction.”
–The Washington Post Book World

One rainy morning in 1871 in lower Manhattan, Martin Pemberton a freelance writer, sees in a passing stagecoach several elderly men, one of whom he recognizes as his supposedly dead and buried father. While trying to unravel the mystery, Pemberton disappears, sending McIlvaine,
...more
Hardcover, 253 pages
Published May 31st 1994 by Random House (first published 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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William1
A moody, elegant thriller, beautifully paced. A retired New York City newspaper editor writing after the turn of the century recounts the tale of what happened when his talented freelance writer, Martin Pemberton, went missing in the 1871. This was before the city had grown much above present-day 72nd Street. Martin believes, and others agree, that he may be losing his mind. He has twice recently seen his father, dead these last two years, being driven through town in a sepulchrally white omnibu ...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Book Circle Reads 21

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Description: “An elegant page-turner of nineteenth-century detective fiction.”
–The Washington Post Book World

One rainy morning in 1871 in lower Manhattan, Martin Pemberton, a freelance writer, sees in a passing stagecoach several elderly men, one of whom he recognizes as his supposedly dead and buried father. While trying to unravel the mystery, Pemberton disappears, sending McIlvaine, his employer, the editor of an evening paper, in pursuit of th
...more
Pat
This would've been a great novel... absorbing and thoughtful and a surprising sci-fi twist... if Doctorow had been able to control his use of ellipses (elippsises?). You couldn't read three sentences... without running into at least one triad of dots... and they were... thrown... in seemingly at... random. Not only that, but every character seemed... equally to be afflicted with ... ellipsosis. What seemed at first to be an... interesting and effective means of... emphasis... quickly became prof ...more
Kurt
Nov 19, 2007 Kurt rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: meh, don't read it.
Once upon a time I thought Doctorow was a real contender, a heavyweight storyteller if not of canonical stature, then at least on par with other true professionals like Fowles or Dexter. Hell, I guess he is, actually, but it was Ragtime and Billy Bathgate that put that thought in mind, and Waterworks, while reinforcing the fact that Doctorow's a craftsman, does little to advance his reputation, in my opinion. It's a good, if dull, story and a nice little exercise in the ellipsis as pace-setter, ...more
Pamela
Jan 05, 2013 Pamela rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like to read crap
I managed to finish this ... book, but just ... barely. Will I read another by this author ... I don't think so. Did I enjoy this ... book? No ... I did not ... enjoy ... this book. Why?

The freaking ellipsis* (ellipses?)! The author's overuse of ... after ... after ... changed what could have been a fairly mediocre attempt at writing a 19th century mystery into something resembling sheer hell for this reader. These blasted dots made it impossible to tell (or care) if the character's voices were
...more
Kevin
Underrated and under-read! By all means, listen to the (abridged, unfortunately) audiobook version by the great actor Sam Waterston. History, mystery, ethics, musings about eternity, the meaning of life, and New York trivia to boot. What more could you want?
Sera
It is not a story of a lost writer, it is the story of a city. New York is actually the main character of the book. Doctorow depicts the city in a very elaborate and gloomy way and he takes us to a journey of New York in old times. We can breathe that air with the author's meticulous style. However, he doesn't capture the reader so easily. The mysterious story of the lost writer Martin Pemberton could have been told more thrillingly in my opinion but Pemberton doesn't give what we expect as read ...more
Nathan Fehr
Book Report on
WATERWORKS by E.L. Doctorow
07/16/09

DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE EVENTS OF THE STORY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY WOULD ACTUALLY HAVE HAPPENED?
No. The narrator, McIlvane, is retelling the story years after it has occurred and makes many jumps forward and back as he goes along. It nicely reinforces the idea that he's been thinking a lot about the events of the novel himself, and that he's worked hard to understand things and put them in sequence when in some ways that isn't really possi
...more
Beth
Feb 19, 2008 Beth rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Although this was a pretty good book, it was probably my least favorite of all the EL Doctorow books which I have read. I can't go into much detail about the story without essentially giving away the whole book. This is because they kind of keep you in the dark about what is going on at the Waterworks until the last couple chapters. I am sure that at the time this book first came out it was a shocking concept, but there was a movie made a few years ago that must have either been based off of thi ...more
Chana
Slow-moving and boring. It didn't quite fit the crime genre nor the mystery genre. It certainly was not a thriller. It was more of a philosophical meandering asking questions about the advance of medicine and science versus religion, the advance of the machine age versus the pastoral, the acceptance and resignation of age versus the fire and idealism of youth. It has a few bright moments as a story and I would hold hope for a some pages that the writer would continue to be bright and clear, but ...more
David
This was handed to me by a neighbor so I thought, "what the heck, Doctorow is supposed to be a good author" and read the thing. When I mentioned this to my sister she said that Doctorow's books struck her pulp-fiction instead of literary which is what she expected given the author's reputation. I would have to say that this book is more like pulp-fiction that is trying to be literary - not the best of either world. I am sure not inclined to read any more of this author's works based on this "mys ...more
Ronald
A goodreads friend recenltly reviewed a novel by E.L. Doctorow, and that caused me to remember that I read another novel by E.L. Doctorow, _The Waterworks._

The novel was first published in 1994. I read it in the late 90s.

The novel falls in two genres I'm interested in: Gothic and SF horror. Specifically, the story takes place in New York in 1871. E.L. Doctorow is excellent at creating a picture of the time. The corrupt politics of Tammany Hall. Maimed veterans of the American Civil War out on th
...more
Jane
The Waterworks is about the Boss Tweed Tammany Hall era of New York City, and to hype the message that corruption is bad (or is just a facet of Darwinism in the eyes of some), the plot focuses on the consequences of the work of a medical doctor who is just too darn good for the era. In other words, what would happen if graft, bribery, and corruption were applied to the medical field as well as to everything else in post-Civil War NYC?

It is a pity that Doctorow's execution of such a cool theme wa
...more
Elisa
Una mañana lluviosa de 1871, cuando Martin Pemberton baja por Broadway rumbo a la redacción de su periódico, ve un ómnibus blanco tirado por caballos en el que viajan unos ancianos de negro riguroso. Cree reconocer entre ellos a su padre, muerto y sepultado dos años atrás.
Trastornado por la visión y para convencerse de que no ha sido ni una alucinación ni un cuento de fantasmas, Martin parte en busca del elusivo coche municipal y sus fúnebres pasajeros. McIlvaine, el zumbón editor del Telegram y
...more
Lara
very grim, but insightful, even profound. I loved the narrator with his masterfully rendered voice of a 19th-century new yorker and his whole persona evolving around this seemingly disembodied voice. and of course New York itself - beautiful and nuanced stylisation into which history weavened not as facts or numbers but as living pulse of the city life, so that one can feel its beat even today.
Akiva
Definitely one of Doctorow's lesser efforts. There are bits of good writing and the mystery kept me going, but the book definitely fell flat. Another book where the narrator is largely a nonentity as interesting things happen around him. I kind of feel like the entire book was an extended exercise in foreshadowing and that most of it was just an extended metaphor about stasis and change.
Bogdan
This is an interesting novel, a kind of tribute to 19th century romantic novels, set in the New York of that time. With a noir/gothic background and one of the central characters being a socially not adapted genial doctor. But despite using the themes of romantic novel, it ended up in a nice reading not a relic from another era. I guess the language and the first person narrator are the key to this achievement.

It took me some time to understand the premise. The conflict that triggers the story i
...more
Jee Koh
The Waterworks, my second Doctorow, has a rather predictable plot and characters that seem more symbol than flesh-and-blood. It tries too hard to rise above its genre, that of detective fiction. It is a pleasant enough way, however, to learn more about New York City in 1871. For instance, where the New York Library now stands, there used to be a reservoir.
Joel
This was an extremely dull book. If you want to get into Doctorow, I'd suggest starting with Sweet Land Stories, which was great, or Ragtime (haven't read it but I know it's his most famous). Skip this. He uses ellipses between almost every sentence. It gets aggravating very quickly. The whole book was bland.
Jerry Delaney
I seem to be all over the place with Doctorow. Some of his books I have loved while others - like this one - I really regret picking up. It read to me like a pastiche of popular (not literary) novels of the time in which it was set. Well done as an exercise for the writer but not enjoyable for the reader.
Kate
On a cobbled street at the lower east tip of Manhattan is a gift shop filled with absurdly priced items -- $3,800 coffee tables. $400 earrings. $2,000 leather satchels. Hell! It's New York, so who am I to try to understand prices? But on the second floor of this gift shop is something I understand perfectly: books. This bookshop is devoted to the idea that celebrities are people too; this bookshop sells only the 10 favorite books of certain celebrities. I took a spin around the store reflecting ...more
Asta
As a longtime ellipsis overuser, the punctuation of this novel didn't bother me and I was able to easily travel the streets of Boss Tweed's New York.
It's not as strong as Ragtime or Billy Bathgate in terms of plot or character development, but it was entertaining.
Seth
Provides a lens to NYC during the Tweed era - most interesting for me were the descriptions of the changing landscape of the island from pastoral to city. however, story seemed flat, contrived and a bit over-the-top for my liking.
Elvis Is King
Hopefully Doctorow will never again write a book as bad as this one. If you read only one E.L. Doctorow make sure it is not this. I would suggest Welcome to Hard Times.
Diane
Never read any of his stuff - heard him interviewed on NPR and thought I'd try one out. Historical fiction is a favorite...
I could not get thru the first 5 chapters.
Gregory Frost
A strange narrative of New York City in 1870 that moves from historical mystery to a kind of understated science fiction that might delight steampunk fans as well.
Notcathy J
"Someone should tell him that ellipses do not replace dashes, commas or semicolons, even if you are one of America's preeminent men of letters."
Patricia Stevens
Excellent. In the manner of Wilkie Collin. All of the historical details were as excellent as the sense of dread and mystery throughout.
herbert hooks
I thought I should read this well-known author to buttress my literary pursuits. I was so looking forward to reading this book because in the New York Times a well-known author and stated that it was the book on his nightstand he was reading . I was very disappointed in this book even though initially I found the story intriguing . It didn't last. It was as if the author took great pride in showing his knowledge of new York of the late 19th century

I have no desire to read any of his other works
...more
Micebyliz
Old crime. The oldest most awful kind because it's really harder to understand than the random sort we have today. Today it's so anonymous--the hacking and the sudden outbursts--but this was planned and meticulous and full of "good" reasons. This book at times seemed slow but it all built up to the end--the very end--and it was worth it. I don't know how i feel about some part of it (no spoilers here)
but i think at that time it fits in very well. There were a lot of strange beliefs and cult-like
...more
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E. L. DOCTOROW’S works of fiction include Homer & Langley,The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, the Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidential ...more
More about E.L. Doctorow...
Ragtime The March Homer & Langley Billy Bathgate The Book of Daniel

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“Ever since this day I have dreamt sometimes... I, a street rat in my soul, dream even now... that if it were possible to life this littered, paved Manhattan from the earth... and all its torn and dripping pipes and conduits and tunnels and tracks and cables--all of it, like a scab from new skin underneath--how seedlings would sprout and freshets bubble up, and brush and grasses would grow over the rolling hills...” 1 likes
“He was a moody, distracted young fellow, and it was clear his own mind was more company to him than people were.” 0 likes
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