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The Waterworks

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,703 ratings  ·  145 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
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 8th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1994)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,761)
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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
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?
Pamela
Jan 05, 2013 Pamela rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
Beth
Feb 19, 2008 Beth rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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.
Patricia Stevens
Feb 09, 2015 Patricia Stevens is currently reading it
Excellent. In the manner of Wilkie Collin. All of the historical details were as excellent as the sense of dread and mystery throughout.
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."
Susan
Started to read because I loved ragtime, but I just couldn't get into it.
Steffi
The setting of the novel is New York in the year 1871. Martin Pemberton, a freelance journalist, was at odds with his father Augustus, who died a few years ago. After his father’s dead, Martin sees him in a white omnibus, which drives past him. He begins to make inquiries and then he disappears. His employer, the editor McIlvaine, looks for him. He talks to Martin’s fiancée Emily Tisdale, his stepmother, his friend and painter Harry Wheelwright and the Reverend Charles Grimshaw. As recently as h ...more
Scott
Like in all Doctorow books, his is a kind of narration that flows and engulfs the reader in his world - in this case that of 1871-2 New York City. While I appreciate and marvel at Doctorow's research and obvious fascination with the 19th century life in America, this one I found exciting and interesting solely for that fact.

A plot that is founded on the disappearance of a freelance writer and his editor's subsequent search for him failed to seem realistic in ways that RAGTIME or THE MARCH seemed
...more
Abbe
Sep 20, 2012 Abbe added it
Shelves: in-library
EDITORIAL REVIEW: “An elegant page-turner of nineteenth-century detective fiction.”–The Washington Post Book WorldOne 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 the truth behind his freelancer’s fate. Layer b ...more
Becca-Rawr
I read 'The Waterworks' coming out of having just read Doctorow's 'Ragtime.' As a reader, I try not to expect anything from authors, especially from authors I've read before. It doesn't seem fair, and clouds the mind of the reader. But when I read 'The Waterworks' I was shocked. Not only was this different than anything I'd ever read of Doctor's before, but this was completely unrelated.

This novel follows the mystery behind a missing man, who days before his vanishing, claimed to have seen his d
...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
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