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The Origin of Species

3.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  635 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Winner of the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Fiction

Montreal during the turbulent mid-1980s: Chernobyl has set Geiger counters thrumming across the globe, HIV/AIDS is cutting a deadly swath through the gay population worldwide, and locally, tempers are flaring over the recent codification of French as the official language of Quebec. Hiding out in a seedy apartment near
ebook, 496 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Other Press (first published September 30th 2008)
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Dec 01, 2008 Sue rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not an easy read and at 472 pages, it isn't a quick read either. The author examines Darwin's theory of evolution and considers how it is evidenced in the complex life history of his protagonist, Alex Fratarcangeli, and the various characters that enter and leave his world. The story is set in the mid 80's, and takes us from Montreal to the Galapagos, to Sweden, to small town Leamington - the hometown of the main character, and of the author. The descriptions of setting sometimes became ...more
Ben Babcock
Far too long for its own good, The Origin of Species seems to have one goal: destroy any last shred of sympathy the reader might have for the protagonist, Alex Fratarcangeli.

Part of my trouble with this book is a defect of self. I'm too young to have lived through the 1980s, and I've never been to Montreal. Thus, it's difficult for me to comprehend Alex's preoccupation with Pierre Trudeau, Bill 101, and tension among immigrant populations. Someone more attuned to the zeitgeist of 1980s Canada or
Long. Mildly interesting and I'm surprised I finished it.

Could not relate to the characters. I don't enjoy books where I can't relate or understand where the characters are coming from and I definitely could not understand this one.

The main character, Alex, is probably best summed up by one of the other characters in the book, Maria - one of Alex's long-shot love interests - when she tells him that he isn't a real man (or something like that) because he can't decide what he wants and act on it.
Aug 20, 2011 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I will not finish this book...too long. The August selection for my book club proved to be mildly interesting during the first part; however, there were far too many references to cultural events and people of the Montreal 80's that it would be dificult for someone younger or from elsewhere to understand or appreciate. I have abandoned this book at the halfway point in the Galapagos. I simply don't care anymore about Alex. It's been too hot a summer for such a heavy read and it dosen't go well w ...more
Lisa Poeltl
Jul 24, 2009 Lisa Poeltl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've ever read. I thought deeply throughout. It was a great combination of an excellent read which keeps you coming back for more, and a book laden with subtext. I was deeply moved at the end.
Feb 04, 2015 Cindy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book. I feel like I missed some of its deeper points, I couldn't warm up to the main character at all. At almost 500 pages I am happy I finished it. What a slog.
Steven Teasdale
The Origin of Species captured the 2008 Governor Generals Literary Award for fiction (the second such win for Ricci, the first being his 1993 debut Lives of the Saints). It was a well-deserved honour. This dense, multi-faceted, sprawling, and thought-provoking tome explores the ideas of evolution, love, ruthlessness, human nature, relationships, nature, fatherhood, higher education, and postmodernism, among many others, in a provocative, humorous, and often moving fashion.

The primary story conce
Aug 28, 2012 Zara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-fiction, own
Nino Ricci's "The Origin of Species" novel is one I suggest you read twice---not because it's a spectacular book, but because it's one you'll want to contemplate and reconsider especially in its details.

The main character, Alex Fratarcangeli, is as long-winded and complicated as his name. Or maybe not so much long-winded, since with others, he seems so willing to say so very little in fear of revealing too much of himself. And yet, his internal discourse runs about 10 miles a minute that is fier
Karen Bannister
I wanted to enjoy this book. With all its references to literary theory (just completed a Masters in Comp Lit) and the main character's existential angst it seemed right up my alley. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it.

I found the first part of the novel very interesting. We meet Alex and are immersed in his world; there is careful attention paid to many details of his life. I liked Alex. I enjoyed the middle of the novel too and the obvious connection with Darwin's theories. But the end lost me.
Memorable Reading
Jun 28, 2014 Memorable Reading rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was really moved by one of Nino Ricci's short stories and on that recommendation alone, I sought out his longer work. This is the first novel by Ricci that I've read and for the most part, I wasn't disappointed. I would recommend this novel, especially to someone who is doing postgraduate studies and especially if you are a Canadian living in one of the bigger cities (e.g., Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) with a multicultural population.

Ricci's style is very unassuming - he's descriptive enough
Dec 01, 2012 Phredric rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I was generous to this book; reading chapter after chapter thinking it would pick up. I'm over half way though now and so bored of dreary, self-absorbed and ineffectual Alex. The side characters are more interesting but they drift in and out of Alex's life and thus the story.

I think the real problems is that Alex doesn't care about anyone - not even himself - and so in the end I don't either.

One star because I couldn't finish it.
Twenty-six-year old grad student, Alex, is going through a tough time. After two years he’s still struggling to nail down his dissertation theme and deal with unresolved relationship issues. He’s sought a thesis supervisor and a therapist for his personal problems, but neither man is that helpful. Afraid that his life will be a total failure, Alex flounders in his attempts to turn things around.

I had high expectations for this book. After all, it’s a Governor General’s award winner written by a
May 06, 2009 Danielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book that I couldn't put down. The book is an incredible journey through the life of one man as he tries to find a strain of reason or meaning to his existence and experiences.
Mary Curran
Read this as an ebook, and knew that it was long but did not realize the immensity of the novel until after reading various reviews. Extremely well-written, Ricci is definitely GG material although I am a little surprised that he won one for The a Origin of Species. Loved him speaking about an era (80s) in my recent memory and during which I was partially in a similar headspace as Alex. The novel is compartmentalized, as are most of our lives. I preferred the compartments dealing with Esther, hi ...more
Mar 27, 2011 Tat2d rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insanely good. Amazing read. You forget that you're reading as you lose yourself in the prose.
Steven Langdon
Nov 19, 2011 Steven Langdon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This sprawling, remarkable novel is on one level a map of the varied moments of the quite confused life of Alex, a not-so-young doctoral student in Montreal. On another level, it is a parable of the interplay of fate, of chance and of adaptation, reflecting the central insights of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. There is no plan, Alex sees Darwin deciding, above all, as he traces the intricate variations that mark out the evolution of plants and animals; there is simply what turns out, f ...more
Jerry Levy
Interesting premise about a self-absorbed grad student trying to finish his PhD, living in Montreal during the turbulent 1980's. A terrible sense of ennui seems to hang over him and he basically seems to have given up. He reminded me a little of Mersaud in Camus' L'etranger. The novel is mostly set in Montreal but then Alex takes off to the Galapagos Islands, where he has a most harrowing adventure with a despicable man Desmond; you'll cringe at parts of that. Lots of minor characters that sift ...more
Oct 21, 2012 Will rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well I finished it but nearly didn’t. Although well-written, it is much, much too long for a novel about a year in the life of a young man (Alex) with a bad case of neurotic introspection and a life that holds little interest for himself, let alone the reader. Too long, that is, even without the social commentary.

It starts out well enough when he meets Esther, a woman with MS and an attitude who may be the one to jolt Alex out of himself, but by chapter 2 we are sidetracked into the minutiae of
Luis Gurley
I personally did not like it much, it was entertaining at times, but I find it with lack of momentum. It gets tedious, with some splashes of brightness. I would not recommend it as a great book (well at least from my perspective).
I have read the biography this author made of Pierre Trudeau, it was an amazing work. I still have to give another try, with one of his most renowned work "Lives of the saints". But cannot say this boo was a great read.
May 01, 2009 Marlene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are looking for a suspenseful plot, or a story of personal redemption and salvation, you will not find satisfaction with this book. However, if you appreciate maturity and confidence in writing style, with a touch of Canadian history, and a cast of interesting characters, you should enjoy this book. Usually I get turned off by main characters who occupy the book with continuing selfish angst (eg Eat, Love, Pray) but the main character of this book, who is going through a period of anguish ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Beeg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Way too long & drawn out. Didn't see Alex's character progress beyond his narcissistic self. I did like the historical and geographic research that created context for the locations. Overall, well written and I always enjoy the biographical references to the author (Leamington) but couldn't finish it bc the characters were wearing very thin on my patience.
Mar 06, 2015 Melanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yuck!! Hated this book. I didn't like Alex, I didn't like his story and I didn't finish the book, which is rare for me. I tried to like it, I tried to persevere, but just couldn't do that to myself!!
Jen Funk
Feb 21, 2016 Jen Funk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent insight into the mind of a closed up grad student who can't seem to get out the right words in any situation. really liked this. Especially the Peter Gzowski moments
This book won the Governor General's Award. I don't know why....Lots of stories going on in different time frames, all centered around the protagonist, yet none of the stories are strongly linked. It is really long.....if I hadn't had to get through it for book club, I would not have finished it.
Very interesting in light of having visited Galapagos Islands. Montreal late 1980s, large story with many interconnections, exceptionally well written. Recommended.
May 02, 2009 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, but it went on way too long for me. Towards the end I was barely registering what was happening anymore, just wanted to find out what happened to the main characters. There were also a lot of minor characters that I found difficult to keep track of...a name would show up partway through and I've have no idea where I'd heard it before.

The significance of the whole Galapagos incident was somewhat lost on didn't seem like it should have been as
Jul 21, 2015 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Engaging literary read with rich characters. Beautifully written. Drags a little at times, but certainly not enough for me to want to stop reading.
Andrea Paterson
I've given up on this book. I don't think it's bad. In fact, it may be a wonderful book but it just wasn't speaking to me. It's one of those books that doesn't have anything particularly wrong with it but just can't hold my attention for any length of time. I wasn't drawn to the characters and I found that there were too many of them floating in and out of the narrative for me to attach to any of them. I've noticed that I've completely stalled on my reading because this book has been sitting aro ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Daniel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I would have recommended The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci but I finished it and found it disappointing. The first chapter sets the story up to be interesting as it introduces the protagonist, a McGill PhD candidate, Alex, who meets a women, Esther, with MS. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the book is a litany of his (failed) relationships followed by an ill fated adventure to the Galapagos Islands where he accompanies a disneyish villain, Desmond, on an odd (and unbelievable) mission. ...more
Paula Dembeck
Jan 05, 2016 Paula Dembeck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in Montreal in the 1980s. The story of Alex, thirtyish who is plagued by a gnawing sense of being a fraud in all aspects of his life, from his personal ambitions to his professional work – his Phd where he is trying to connect Darwin’s theories to some greater theory of life. He makes a trip to the Galapagos Islands and meets a girl named Esther. There is also his work at the Berlitz School where he meets Felix a gay Anglophone from Outrement and Miguel and his sister Maria from San Salvador ...more
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Nino Ricci’s first novel was the internationally acclaimed Lives of the Saints. It spent 75 weeks on the Globe and Mail‘s bestseller list and was the winner of the F.G. Bressani Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. In England it won Betty Trask Award and Winnifred Holtby Prize, in the U.S. was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenba ...more
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“He thought of Darwin sleeping out on the pampas during his Beagle trip, a middle-class white kid travelling the world, the first of the backpackers. It was only afterwards, really, that he had made any sense of what he had seen. Alex wondered what, in the fullness of time, he himself would make sense of, what small, crucial detail might be lodging itself in his brain that would shake his life to its foundations.” 1 likes
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