David's Reviews > Appointment in Samarra

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
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's review
Jul 16, 2012

it was ok
Read in February, 2012

Appointment in Samarra John O’Hara (1934) #22

February 11, 2012

I had no Idea what to expect of this novel, having never heard of it, or it’s author. These books are getting rather hard to find, as I am getting quite far down on the list, so when I found three in one day at Good Books in the Woods, I was pretty stoked. I picked this one to read first because in the Prior book I had been reading (a historical fiction of Elizabeth I) one of the characters had made reference to the parable from which this book takes its name. Book omens. The parable is found on the first page of the book, but credits it to a play by Somerset Maugham. Curious.

This novel is a story of an upper middle class hip “set” of an obscure town in Pennsylvania in 1930. Julian English is at the center of this story, and the novel pretty much follows his self-ruin and eventual suicide, taking place over the last 48 hours of his life. He doesn’t seem that bad of a guy by 1930’s standards, but a string of self-inflicted debacles, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol and lack of good judgment bring him to his demise.
I don’t really get why this novel is in this list at all. It is not especially poorly written, but I would never put this on the list of the best novels of the 20th century. By this point, though, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that it’s not my lack of understanding of some of these books and how they were placed on the list, but rather that the panel

1. Preferred or read MUCH different literature than I
2. Had some vested interest in putting some of these books on the list
3. Were retarded
4. Hold some skewed view of what great literature is

At best, this is an interesting read about the hip set of small-town 1930’s. It was kind of neat to see the unflinching somewhat brutal attitude towards women, Jews and booze. 1930 was definitely not a time of great political correctness. I couldn’t shake the feeling, though that this was just another novel that my grandma would have read in her 20’s, and not have been especially moved. The technique at times, when leaving the kind of “best-seller” conversational mold, seemed like the author was poorly trying to mimic some literary “greatness” by repeating phrases over and over again, or doing some light airy stream of consciousness (which I’m not really a fan of anyway).

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