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The Last Gentleman

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  1,436 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Will Barrett is a 25-year-old wanderer from the South living in New York City, detached from his roots and with no plans for the future, until the purchase of a telescope sets off a romance and changes his life forever.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 4th 1999 by Picador (first published 1966)
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I ended my review of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree by adding almost as an afterthought that it is very funny. I’ll start this on Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman by saying it too is very funny. It’s slapstick and absurdist at times, satirical, iconoclastic, wickedly spurting out stereotypes, and if you like your humour refined it’s got that subtle taste of a Socratic Kierkegaard at glee. I’m only an Englishman eavesdropping on this tale of Southern gentility so for better or worse a lot has passed ...more
I am a Percy addict, I admit it, and a vein full of this didn't help. Percy's novels are like non-fiction disguised as fiction, which I think throws a lot of people. He has ideas, and fiction is a vehicle for them. But just like with O'Connor, you can read his books without having a clue about the author's ideas and still love them for the literature they are. Percy's turns of phrase alone make his stuff worth reading. And boy, did this one get me. Starts out like a quaint, good-ish book, perfec ...more
David Lentz
Walker Percy is one of the great novelists of the South and is at his best when he describes quotidian life there. The protagonist, whom Percy shapes as an engineer, is the personification of the Deep South. The engineer is a Princeton man with a high-powered telescope living in New York City with episodes of amnesia or "fugues," which disorient him. This poor man takes a job caring for a desperately sick young man named Jamie and falls in love with his sister, Kitty. Jamie is receiving treatmen ...more
Walker Percy, a much-honored novelist, might be best known in some circles for his noble effort to get the great "Confederacy of Dunces" published after its author, John Kennedy O'Toole, committed suicide. Percy knows great writing when he sees it, and his 1966 novel,"The Last Gentleman," features some great writing.

Like other Percy novels ("The Second Coming" and "The Thanatos Syndrome" come to mind), "The Last Gentleman" is not easy stuff. It features a cast of largely unlikable characters, in
Osvaldo Ortega
Wow! Just finished this wonderful journey of a book. Barrett is a wonderful surreal character living on the edge of his own life. He holds in his soul the confusion and disorientation that comes from living old in a modern world. Incredible. Percy is a master of both dialogue and the stream of consciousness. This last gentleman is a tragic but enviable character.

For those living in the South, or familiar with this strange place facing the Gulf, Percy's references will truly hit home. The author
This book, based in small part on Dostoevsky's The Idiot, is, is, is everything. The final pages will make you tremble or cry, or just appreciate how we kiss and kick around despair.
Matt Simmons
To use the language of the novel itself, this is a book about learning how to get past the nihilistic desire to transcend everything, even one's humanity, and to find a way to exist within the immanent, everyday world in which we find ourselves. Bill Barrett, our protagonist and pilgrim, learns how not to forget in his travels alongside a collection of often wacky and bizarre individuals. Through learning how not to forget, he finds himself. Notice that I say "learns not to forget" instead of "l ...more
I really enjoyed this book. It was strange; the author made some interesting choices, like calling his narrator "the engineer" all the time, instead of by his name. This was odd, because all the characters called him by his name, but for the first part of the book he doesn't interact with anyone, so you don't learn his name until 50 pages in or so. Odd. (p.s. the narrator shared my surname.) There's a ton of philosophy in here, no surprise from Percy, and overall the story is mostly compelling a ...more
My favorite of Walker Percy's novels. Williston Bibb Barrett, the protagonist, although that is a somewhat inappropriate label for him, wanders through the novel reacting to other people in a highly mannered way, initiating very little, but his very self-effacement presents a tabula rasa for those around him to fill in.

Somewhere in this book I remember seeing the description of manners as existing so that "nobody would ever not know what to do." I have looked for the line and not found it lately
The Last Gentleman is difficult to review and I kind of think that I should reread it to really get a grasp of many of the ideas presented within. The book follows a young man who somewhat lacks an identity and constantly suffers from bouts of amnesia. Through him the author explores themes of identity, society, and religion. The book often feels as aimless as its protagonist and can be somewhat difficult to follow but about halfway through I thought it became easier to follow (or perhaps I beca ...more
Gail Jeidy
This one didn't do it for me. There were some interesting trains of thought and ideas and some lovely description. Interesting that the main character suffers from mental issues and goes into spurts of amnesia and fugue states, but the way this is written is too difficult, cumbersome, annoying for the reader to follow. I did not relate to nor care for any of the characters. Or rather I did not feel emotionally invested in their journeys. The journey of the main character, the engineer, felt rand ...more
I don't know what it is about Walker Percy--I always seem to think I'm going to like his books more than I do. This one in particular felt like I needed to devote more time to it and try to finish it faster but it's pretty long to demand that. And I found it rather slow-going. Some parts were funny, sad, and interesting but others seemed really bizarre and unconnected--like the excerpts from Sutter's casebook. I was left not fully understanding the novel but maybe that's to be expected.
Read the whole thing for the reward of the last 20 pages --a true and honest depiction of the moments just prior to death after a prolonged illness. What will you do with your life? What will you do with your death? There's a lot to think on here: memory, identity, recognizing who we are and our place in the world, home and not-home. Challenging, but worthwhile.
Written in 1966, Percy's second novel following the classic "The Moviegoer." Young, confused Southerner, adrift, suffering 60's-style existential angst, a blank slate whose "radar" lets him know what others want him to be. A vehicle for Percy's ideas on philosophy, theology, the South and more. I suffered existential angst trying to get through it.
I really loved Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. One of the best books I've ever read, and I've loved it more and more as I've ruminated on it the years since I've read it. I also really liked his novel Lancelot and his collection of essays titled Signposts in a Strange Land. But this is the third book of his that I haven't really enjoyed. I've gotten bogged down in this one along with Love in the Ruins and Lost in the Cosmos. I never finished Love in the Ruins. There was a stretch where this one wa ...more
Doug Sharp
I like all of Percy's work and will never give any a 3-star review. The Last Gentleman, although a hefty tome, is not one of his best, but is still an off-kilter journey into Percy's peculiar mind. As usual, its protagonist is a confused man--lost psychologically and spiritually.

Percy is a great spoiled-Catholic writer and still a kind of believer. His spiritual concerns are not quite orthodox--he mixes lewdness, aimlessness, conviction, and psychological vertigo into a Percian broth of timeless
Nicolas Shump
There is something about Percy's work that lingers with you after you have finished reading it. I think part of it is the lack of true resolution in his novels. I suppose this is related to Percy's view of humans as wayfarers. Our journeys last our whole lives. It is springs from the characters and ambiance that he creates.
I cannot recall much plot detail in his first novel, The Moviegoer, but I have never forgotten about his concept of "everydayness." It still haunts me. Similarly, from The Tha
Bill Barrett the main character of this novel is a lost soul. In his lostness and his searching he does his best to be good and kind, he is vulnerable and detached. I have come to the conclusion that while I like the character and could "relate" to his plight in theory, it didn't resonate with me because of the the time and social context in which he is lost. The way his search for meaning and place happened was unique to his southern roots and his aristocratic lineage. My lostness is a more mod ...more
descended from a long line of lawyers, walker percy turned to the one honest option left open to him, he wrote fiction. this story of williston bibb barrett is one out of the too few he gave us. 'save for a deafness in one ear, his physical health was perfect. handsome as he was, he was given to long silences.' you have to wonder, though, given his reticence, if he isn't a bit like kawliga, that poor ole woodenhead, specially since 'people usually told him the same joke two or three times.'

i pro
It's a little difficult to know what to make of Percy's lost protagonists. The Last Gentleman and The Moviegoer bear a lot of resemblance to one another, and I must confess that I'm never sure that I've quite grasped where these protagonists come from or where they are going.

The doubts, fears, and rootlessness that Percy describes within Williston Bibb Barrett are familiar---and beautifully rendered---and there are tremendous encounters between characters attempting to discover an adequate resp
Mary Burns
I love the gentle tone of Walker Percy's voice. I like it that his characters, especially Will Barrett in The Last Gentleman, are never sure of themselves but are always open to discovery. I love Percy's imagination, the connections he makes ..."He had caught a lilt in the old man's speech, a caroling in the vowels which was almost Irish." His descriptions: "Then as the thick singing darkness settled about the little caboose which shed its cheerful square of light on the dark soil of old Carolin ...more
This was my first Percy, and it was by turns compelling and infuriating, much like The Idiot upon which it is loosely based. I didn't know anything about the book before I selected the unjacketed copy from the shelf at my local library, nor much about the author, save for what Charles Barber had to say about him during a recent reading on Book TV. My library is woefully understocked (though you can be sure they have every title for every lousy mystery writer from the last 50 years), and even for ...more
This is the second Walker Percy novel I have read (my brother Wesley got it for me for this past Christmas), and it seemed a good fit for me. A southern boy moves to NYC and struggles with identity and the meaning of contemporary life. Right up my alley, so far so good. And I loved "Love In the Ruins", so all signs pointed to me loving this book... but even though I enjoyed huge parts of this novel (especially thoughts on the culture of Southern manners, which I miss up here in the frosty North ...more
There was a natural cadence to the dialogues in "The Last Gentleman" that felt like eavesdropping on actual conversations; these proved to be the most enjoyable parts of the novel for me. However, the descriptive passages seemed to extend on into dreamy unintelligibility, almost as if Percy's thoughts started to run away with themselves while he was writing.

I noticed both of these qualities while reading "The Moviegoer," which I feel is the superior work, and though I appreciate the former more
Susan Emmet
I trudged through this novel, but liked it. Williston Barrett journeys from New York to the south and to the southwest on a quest to find relief from a "nervous condition," a sort of amnesia. He's looking for God, for not-God, for meaning, for connection and family. Remaining true to his penchant for always telling the truth, he becomes involved with an odd family, the Vaughts, whose rich father endows his children (Sutter, a disgraced doctor; Val, a nun; and Kitty, who is Will's supposed great ...more
I had read another Goodreads review to see what others thought, and one said that the main character was a bit too bizarre and that it was therefore a bit hard to follow. I started out snickering at that, but increasingly found it to be true. It was amusing to observe the unpredictable behaviour of Will Barrett, but it also kept me from really being able to ascertain until the very end whether or not the character was making any moral progress or getting anywhere in his life. The start of the no ...more
Natalie Moore Goodison
I love Walker Percy and thought I would be as captivated here as I had with The Moviegoer and Lancelot. I was faintly disappointed as I'm not sure I "got" what he was trying to say. It ended remarkably like Lancelot, with an unanswered question. I prefer his novels where he writes from the first person-- I find them more engaging. There was just a distance here that I didn't expect. But the way he writes about the South, of a Southerner living abroad and coming home, and the nuances of Southern ...more
I'm afraid many of the metaphors and meanings of this book went over my head. Percy is too transcendent for us mere mortals. I don't know that I really like Walker Percy anyway, although I can see his use of language is good. I am surprised that this is loosely based on The Idiot. I haven't read The Idiot in years, but Dostoevsky worries about faith in a qualitatively different way from Percy. His main character in The Idiot is something of a Christ figure, which Will Barrett is not. And the exi ...more
I have pretty mixed feelings on this one.

It started out beautifully, reminding me of the first part of Winter's Tale: an early 20th century urban fantasy set in New York; a romance triggered by stealth and coincidence.

But the romance was just a gateway to the rest of the novel, which alternately frustrated and charmed me. More often the former. The weak plotting and characters ultimately felt like mere devices for Walker Percy to pontificate about spirituality (immanence vs transcendence anyone
Sep 12, 2011 S.B. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: northerners in the south or southerners in the north
An Alabaman with a telescope and nervous fits is taken in by a rich, faltering Southern family. Reading it made me feel like a better, more wholesome person; like I should sit down with a glass of milk and eat whatever kind of homemade sandwiches Southerners favor. It's a very warm novel. I liked it against my will. I think it's a good 100 pages too long, maybe. Percy takes his time when he has something to say, but at the same time it's weirdly quick and not boring.

The silence was disjunct. It
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Walking with the Gentleman 2 25 Dec 10, 2012 10:56AM  
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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction t ...more
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“Like many young men in the South, he had trouble ruling out the possible. They are not like an immigrant's son in Passaic who desires to become a dentist and that is that. Southerners have trouble ruling out the possible. What happens to a... man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course.” 16 likes
“The happiness of the South was very formidable. It was an almost invincible happiness. It defied you to call it anything else. Everyone was in fact happy. The women were beautiful and charming. The men were healthy and successful and funny; they knew how to tell stories. They had everything the North had and more. They had a history, they had a place redolent with memories, they had good conversation, they believed in God and defended the Constitution, and they were getting rich in the bargain. They had the best of victory and defeat. Their happiness was aggressive and irresistible.” 0 likes
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