Jonathan's Reviews > Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
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's review
Nov 09, 2007

liked it
Recommended for: people who like magic and words. lots of words.
Read in November, 2007

Boy, I really wanted to love this book. It's got some beautifully-written passages, an acute eye for detail, and utter narrative fearlessness. Unfortunately, it lacks a sense of real-world meaning to back up its monumental linguistic and metaphysical ambition.

This book tries to locate magic and transcendent wonder in the workaday fumblings and intersections of ordinary people and the (truly magical) city they live in, New York (circa 1900 and 2000, but in a universe not entirely familiar). There's a lot of highfalutin talk about the ultimate balance and order of the universe and the power of love to defeat time and injustice, and y'know, that kind of stuff. What's disappointing is that as you work your way through the 750 pages, and dig deeper and deeper into the story, the metaphysicial mumbo-jumbo just leads to more metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. The book never manages to connect all this big talk to real-life human experience in any meaningful way.

It's still a fun and compelling read, and entirely original (especially in light of the fact that it pre-dated... and possibly started? the fad of setting novels in 19th century New York), but it would be a mistake to take it as seriously as it asks to be taken.
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