Being There
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Being There

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  5,062 ratings  ·  347 reviews
Chauncey Gardiner is the great enigma: a hero of the American media. TV loves him; print pursues him. He is a household face; the one everybody is talking about. Nobody knows what he is talking about or where he has come from, but everybody knows he has come to money, power and sex. Was he led to all this by the lovely, well-connected wife of a dying Wall Street tycoon? Or...more
Hardcover, 142 pages
Published December 31st 1971 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P (first published 1970)
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MJ Nicholls
Peter Sellers’s last (and best?) performance was in Being There—directed by Hal Ashby with Kosiński’s screenplay—one of my favourite American tragicomedies. The original novella compresses the meat of the movie into straightforward and simple chapters, mimicking the simple mind of Chance, the anonymous simpleton whose plain-talking homilies propel him into the top of American life within four days. The film brings the character of Chance into being through Peter Sellers, who expands upon the sim...more
TK421
At a scant 128 pages, this is a small book with enormous implications. Although written in the seventies (with a movie starring Peter Sellers in the eighties), the storyline is very prescient today. Before reading this slim novel, think about the myriad of ways people continue to infer incorrectly important issues, or how they get their information pertaining an issue.

A slender gem that needs to be read by all.

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Glenn Russell
From what author Jersy Koskinski writes in the first few pages of this short novel, a reasonable take on the back-story goes like this: main character Chance’s mother died in childbirth, probably giving birth in the lawyer-father’s house so as to leave no record or documentation (as opposed to hospital record-keeping) since the old lawyer aimed to avoid anything official about his being the father. And then over the next several years, probably the result of some type of brain-damage, observing...more
Gerald
Kosinski was one of my instructors in college. He taught a seminar on Camus and Sartre.

I remember he said, "The only moment of true freedom I ever experience was on airplane suspended between the two collectives."

The movie version was excellent but with much of the thematic weight of the book missing. And it's not that the book is too voluminous. That part is just unfilmable.
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I read Being There in my infancy, prior most likely to my familiarity with Herr Heidegger.

I saw the film last night, the one staring Peter Sellars.

(view spoiler) no matter what Melvyn Douglas's granddaughter (on the dvd extras) has to say. It is indeed possible to entirely, and at an angle of 180°, misinterpret a piece of literature. Sometimes one needn't pay attention because one always already knows what They say and so does one.
Jim
It's interesting that I've picked up and read this story right now in view of McCain's selection of Palin, a virtual unknown, and her rapid escallation to the front page of the country's newspapers. That's almost exactly what occurred to Chance, the name of a man who had served without pay as a wealthy man's gardener until he suddenly found himself without a job or a family when the man died. While roaming the streets deciding what to next, a chauffeur backing into a parking place, pinned his le...more
A.J.
You can Google this book and come up with numerous learned and not-so-learned papers discussing it, and this might lead you to think it significant. You might be swayed by people who call it a postmodern masterpiece or an existential gem, or by the fact that it was made into a film. But look at Kosinski's prose: this particular emperor is stark naked. In short, this novel has a good premise and is full of good ideas, amateur in their execution.

A back-of-the-book puff piece in my copy cites "a cr...more
Steve
In 78-79, when I was in 9th grade history (or world studies?) this book was mentioned as being significant, presumably because of its cultural impact. Strangely, this class was the only place I'd ever heard the book mentioned, and never heard about it after until the movie came out. Didn't see the movie. I found a 99 cent paperback copy at a book sale last year, and just pulled it off the shelf yesterday, which is to say I'm now halfway through it.

Will comment further upon finishing, but thus fa...more
Mary
I am still in the process of adding books from years ago and came across Being There. I am not sure how this would read today but on it's release it was a favorite (and then a movie version). I remember enjoying this very much and to this day those of us of a certain age can use Chauncy Gardner as an adjective and still get a chuckle. The media and government were dimly viewed in that era and so much of fiction at that time reflected an almost cynical society. This was when Vidal, Irving, Roth,...more
Evan
So, there was a German film in the mid-1970s, a Werner Herzog-directed movie of cult status titled, The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, based supposedly on a true incident from hundreds of years ago in which a man, a kind of idiot, suddenly appeared in a town and his origins remained a mystery. In the film, Hauser is shown to be raised in a dark, prison-like condition, cut off completely from the ways of the world and socialization. Raised like some factory farm animal. Then one day his caretaker dies...more
Melody Manful
I went to a political party today. I sat down, kept a gentle smile on my face, and whenever someone asked me a question, or expected me to comment on a decision... every word that came out of my mouth was either about life or death... and plants! They bought it, now I'm head of their political party, looking to launch my own campaign!!

Haha... this book is brillant!
aPriL meows 'n growls TLDR
What an awful, horrific, hateful book. Kosinski must have had a bad year or ten in high society. Nobody is ok in this book. In Kosinski's bleak, black satire it blasts away at who we we are, our thinking selves (avatars is what I actually want to say) which in truth hide self-knowledge or awareness of the extreme self-involvement and the resulting recursive solipsism of every single human being, in the author's opinion. I don't think some readers have caught on that Chance is a symbol of the inn...more
Suzie
The movie was better and more detailed.
Sulkin went on, 'Your Mr Chauncey Gardiner remains, to all intents and purposes,' and here he held up the sheet of paper by its corner, 'a blank page.'
This is just a crazy misunderstanding.

The setting, action, characters and events are presented directly. All characters, reveal themselves in the story through their action and speech. They are not described, and I had to create them in my mind myself while reading. Go watch the movie, it's better.
Chance beca
...more
Jim
If you haven't read this short little gem, read it now, then go to some sort of republocrat/conservative/teaparty party and try some of Chance's minimalist conversation techniques. While people are discussing debt ceilings and budget re-toolings, respond with things like "Tilling has its place, but I've always believed in allowing the subsoil to settle." I'm sure you'll be invited to visit various yachts and private estates, as well as being introduced to their unmarried sons and daughters...
Lukasz Pruski
I saw Hal Ashby's movie "Being There" about 20 years ago and I still remember the huge impression it made on me. Peter Sellers was magnificent as Chance the gardener. I have just finished reading Jerzy Kosinski's book, on which the movie is based, and I find the book much weaker than the movie.

Kosinski's short novella is a one-gimmick book: a simple gardener who has never been outside of his employer's residence, who knows first-hand only about gardening, who learns about people and the world fr...more
Kim Mayer
This book fascinated me. I loved not only the writing style but the unique perspective of Chance, the main character. Because he has no experience of the world outside of the garden he tends and what he watches on television, it's interesting to see what unfolds when he does have to strike out into the real world. His perspective is unique, unpredictable, and enjoyable to read about. Kosinki's writing is sparse, which some have criticized, but I find it to have the powerful effectiveness of auth...more
Zakaria
The human mind is a kingdom of dreams, ideas, concepts and intellect. Reality, or what lays outside the mind, is undoubtedly disconnected from the realm of the abstractions known only in mind. The five senses, however, try hard to establish a sort of instantaneous connection between the physical world and the mind, but unfortunately fail most of time. The novel "Being there" is a great artwork written by the polish author Jerzy Kosinski. This work of art draws a clear image of the relationship...more
wally
hmmm maybe i ought to read more from kosinski, as the few i've read have been a blast. whereas the painted bird was disturbing, this one is hilarious. remember the movie, peter sellers? great movie, too. a good read.

update
reading this one again....

begins:

it was sunday. chance was in the garden. he moved slowly, dragging the green hose from one path to the next, carefully watching the flow of water. very gently he let the stream touch every plant, every flower, every branch of the garden. plants...more
Erin
At only 140 pages, this was a very quick read but fun.

Chance was sheltered from the outside world his entire life. He never left the house of his employer except to tend the garden in the backyard. He cannot read or write and spends his off time watching TV. When his employer dies he is left homeless and thrust into the outside world. After an accident and a few gardening metaphors he is thrust into America's financial and political society.

I found this book incredibly humorous. I loved the iron...more
Gemma
It was as though Kosinski took a manual for writing postmodern novels and copied it verbatim. Omnipresent television, personality-less hero, lampooning of society's empty values...and did I mention omnipresent television? With painfully childishly-wrought, obvious metaphors about "being seen" and "watched"? Did you know we only exist if we are seen? Blah, blah, Baudrillard, whatever bleh.

I've heard this was a great film, though, and Kosinski did win a BAFTA and a Writer's Guild something-or-othe...more
Mark R.
***1/2

A humorous story with a serious theme, Being There, is about a simple man who has lived his entire life in a house, under the care of an old man who has just passed on. There is no legal record of the man whatsoever, no documents, no birth certificate, and he is forced out of the house, into the world.

In a matter of hours, he finds himself involved in national politics, thrust into the world spotlight, when people find deep meaning in things he says, when he himself means specifically, and...more
rachel  misfiticus
During certain moments of non-linear daydreaming, my thoughts have intermittently nodded in the direction of this book. My initial perception, since reading the book several years ago, might not be totally congruent with my current impression, but in any case, what the hell – I’ll go with it. Haven't we all met moments when our mere presence enhances mood, understanding, the intangible intricacies of reality? Or maybe I am narcissistic? My friend was writing something that resembled a book or lo...more
Jim
I saw the film first. It is a very good film and also—now that I’ve read the book I can attest to this—an excellent adaptation which it ought to be as Kosinski also wrote the screenplay; the only thing I think was missed was the encounter with the homosexual and I can see why it was skipped because the same thing happens with EE later. Of course we couldn’t have had the film without the book and as I’ve implied there’s no great difference contentwise between the one and the other but the film is...more
Erin
This book is simple, and really doesn't need to have too many words to be profound. The same can be said of sweet, simple-minded Chauncy Gardiner, the main character. At first, I wasn't sure whether he was sane or insane. I quickly surmised that he was, at the very least, more sane than Yours Truly. It was a total treat to read his reactions to the 'normal', sophisticated, cosmopolitan people he interacted with. I was reminded that sometimes we CAN just look at the flowers, or even the TV, witho...more
Tim
Rating 2.5/5 stars.

I picked this up because I was a fan of the film version starring Peter Sellers. This version is read by Dustin Hoffman whose disaffected tone works quite well for the story given the protagonist, but probably wouldn't work as well for many other stories.

The book starts off well enough, picks up, and starts working as a commentary on politics and the news media. Unfortunately, by the time that chapter 6 comes around the story kind of falls apart. The ending is abrupt and does...more
David Williamson
Chance (the) Gardener is a blank page, there is very little of the 'Dasein' in him. He is always overcoming, disclosing, because he is in the flow of life, etc.

Chance to me seems to be a possible Heideggarian figure, but I'm not sure whether his being is being mocked?

He is a mirror to society and reflects what people want to hear in themselves. I'm not quite sure what the significance of the importance of TV has though? Possible to show his detachment, or that his only interactions (?) with peop...more
Zach
sort of weakly and incompletely written, being there shines more in its diversions than in its plot. it's also probably one of those rare books that works better as a film, as the visual cues fill the textual blanks. that being said, chance is a pretty great character: serendipitous, simple-minded, yet measured, in the interest of saving his skin and securing a home (literally) among the elites, trapped in their business, who desperately want "someone to believe in."

although i wasn't always sur...more
Maciek
Very different from other novels by Kosinski. After the death of his employer, Chance, the gardener, is forced to leave the mansion where he lived all his life - and he has never left it before. Unaccustomed to the booming City and lively street, he is jostled by a car. The woman travelling in the car offer to take him into her house, so her doctor can take care of him. While Chance gets back to health, both the woman and her husband start discovering extraordinary qualities that he posesses.
Ver...more
Jared Della Rocca
In reading Being There, I found myself traveling two different avenues regarding Chance, aka Chauncey Gardiner. On the one avenue, the book contained such an interesting insight into our society. Kosinski pushes to the top a man of simplicity, who arrives there through the use of simple platitudes and repetition of what others are telling him. He literally starts off his rise by parroting back the last few words the person speaking to him has said. They take that as agreement, and propel him for...more
Kristin
I'm not quite sure what I think of this book. I can't decide if it's brilliant. After all, it does comment on our engagement with TV, the influence of media and the scary ways that people sometimes come to power. The fact that he catapults to a vice presidential candidate in four days is quite unbelievable. But, one can't help but wonder about how little we really know about those that lead us.

As a piece of literature, the writing is stripped down and bare. The author's points, repetitive. The c...more
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Kosiński was born Josef Lewinkopf to Jewish parents in Łódź, Poland. As a child during World War II, he lived in central Poland under a false identity his father gave him to use, Jerzy Kosiński. A Roman Catholic priest issued him a forged baptismal certificate. The Kosiński family survived the Holocaust thanks to local villagers, who offered assistance to Jewish Poles often at great personal risk...more
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