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Appointment in Samarra

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  14,042 ratings  ·  817 reviews
O’Hara did for fictional Gibbsville, Pennsylvania what Faulkner did for Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi: surveyed its social life and drew its psychic outlines, but he did it in utterly worldly terms, without Faulkner’s taste for mythic inference or the basso profundo of his prose. Julian English is a man who squanders what fate gave him. He lives on the right side of th ...more
Paperback, 251 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Vintage (first published January 28th 1934)
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Sheri Or better yet, that trying to escape one's fate will only speed up its arrival.…moreOr better yet, that trying to escape one's fate will only speed up its arrival.(less)

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Jim Fonseca
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ll start with two paragraphs that I think illustrate John O’Hara’s powerful writing:

“It was a lively, jesting grief, sprightly and pricking and laughing, to make you shudder and shiver up to the point of giving way completely. Then it would become a long black tunnel; a tunnel you had to go through, had to go through, had to go through, had to go through, had to go through. No whistle. But had to go through, had to go through, had to go through. Whistle? Had to go through, had to go through,
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
O'Hara's distinctive literary voice is both unique and disarming. For the first hundred pages I was unsure that O'Hara was even a competent writer, nevermind author of one of the century's great novels. His narrative technique and dialogue both are steeped in the jargon of his heyday, Prohibition Era, small town America. But O'Hara deals with big themes and the idiom of his day becomes secondary. He seems to want to take on big questions: why is the moth so driven to the flame? Why do we so will ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Appointment in Samarra is set in 1930, just on the edge of the Great Depression, in a Pennsylvania town north of Philadelphia. It’s Christmas, and the upper middle-class characters are going to all the required parties and following all of the social niceties until the night when our lead character, Julian English, throws a drink in his boss’s face. The title of the book comes from an ancient Mesopotamian tale (summarized on the book’s first page), and it immediately warns the reader that the fa ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I had never read anything by O'Hara before, and he probably would have stayed off my radar forever if I hadn't read Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways, in which Valerie Hemingway states that O'Hara was an author recommended to her by Papa himself(but not this title). I figured that if a writer is good enough for Papa Hemingway, who am I to pass him by?

So I figured I would start at the beginning and I was certainly not disappointed. I found a book with a noirish (if that's a wor
Oct 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
On the back of this novel, Hemingway offered the following blurb: "if you want to read a book by a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well, read Appointment in Samarra." Unfortunately, the subject John O'Hara knows so much about, and about which he does occasionally pen very beautiful pages, is the social life of the country club set in a little backwater city in central Pennsylvania. The novel takes place in 1930, but apart from a few passing reference ...more
Mar 07, 2007 rated it liked it
This is on The Modern Libraries Top 100 Novels? I can see no reason why. It's a good book - but top 100? Come on! This should be like # 552 on a list of the 1000 best novels. ...more
The book is about three days in the life of Julian English, the 24th, the 25th and the 26th of December 1930. So it is Christmas and during the Prohibition and the Depression. Julian is thirty, lives on the right side of the tracks in the fictional town of Gibbsville, a surrogate for Pottsville in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. He has a wife that loves him, his father is a doctor and he is himself a wealthy car dealer of Cadillacs. He is a member of the town's most posh coun ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
The stifling atmosphere of small town life is so vividly displayed here that alone made the book difficult for me. I'm not old enough to know what middle class mores were in fact like in the 1930's but many so-called canon Great Books depict the same types of people, occupations and distresses.

The Wasp set of values in vogue in the past, under which the characters in the book must live, struck me as the American version of Victorian values in the earlier era. Julian English's name is a clue to
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the useless
Shelves: 2017
It seems like Appointment in Samarra (SOM-a-rah) is going to be another one of those light comedies about silly rich people, the kind we've seen quite enough of already thank you - and then it gets close and slips the knife in.

Julian English is a useless person: an idle rich loser who drinks too much. One night he throws a drink into some other idle loser's face. Predictable social difficulties ensue.

But mistake is compounded on mistake. He is a useless person. He is of no use. It's one of your
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like The Great Gatsby but much much better.
BAM Endlessly Booked
This book is actually pretty funny.
Patrick McCoy
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-noir
I have heard a lot of good things about John O’Hara’s first and most popular novel, Appointment in Samarra. So I finally decided to read it. It was quite a revelation-a Fitzgerald-esque depiction of the 30s jazz age lifestyle complete with snappy dialogue, big parties, heavy drinking and other sorts of dissipation. There are bootleggers and gangsters among the upwardly mobile who see this way of life as an entitlement. It is essentially the chronicle of a marriage in decline between the self-des ...more
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
F Scott Fitzgerald once said "the rich are different from you and me." Well, if "Appointment in Samarra" is an accurate depiction, they're apparently a lot duller and dumber. I have no idea why this proto-"Peyton Place" enjoys such a sterling literary reputation. Maybe when it was published in 1934, people wanted a little schadenfreude at the expense of the country-club set (and in the depths of a Depression triggered by the recklessness of the rich, it was well-deserved). The book also has some ...more
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Starting with the novel's opening scene, the frank sexually-oriented passages in Appointment in Samarra were obviously shocking for the times. And the times, the ‘30s (and within the context of lives of well-to-do American country clubbers), are vividly created by John O’Hara, who sources tell us had an agenda in presenting that world in his cynical, yet humorous point of view.

Fran Lebowitz described O’Hara as “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald." I’m not exactly sure what that means (whether dear Fra
Mike Moore
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A remarkably succinct novel about social standing, gender relations, economic disadvantage, sex and death.

John O'Hara is often thought a middling writer, but for at least the 200-odd pages of this work he is an absolute master. Covering an astounding panorama of themes and insights into the bourgeoisie population of a small town at the beginning of the depression, his frankness on married life, resentment, criminality, and a dozen other topics that are alternately ignored or aggrandized by other
Adam Dalva
An odd one - it's a strange mixture of Updike (the Rabbit books so obviously spring from this source) and Cheever. I loved parts of it - the multiple perspectives are satisfying. Caroline's chapter, in particular, is a real achievement in the way it elides time. You can't help but fall in love with her. The frank treatment of sexuality is excellent, and the whole thing feels very much of its time in the right way - reading it gave me a sense of life during prohibition at the end of the depressio ...more
pretty darn good minor classic about fitzgerald's famous "lost generation"...I really enjoyed this when I read it a million years ago. I just completely plugged into it and read it till the early hours of the morning. Great platter of minor characters and a well-paced plot leading inevitably to the satiric denouement where the flapping and philosophizing ends in tragedy because the participants lack the necessary self-reflection to understand how existentially unmoored they are in the consumeris ...more
Michael Canoeist
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
O'Hara is neglected today -- maybe he was so ferociously accurate about his own time that he wrote himself out of the public mind. Who wants to keep getting their fingers burned, picking up each new book? Besides, as he aged, he got cranky and "prolix," as someone once put it, probably Updike. Appointment in Samarra is a tiny bit childish at the very beginning, when it feels like high school; but very soon the characters march righteously off the page and into your mundane, what'sforlunch consci ...more
Conor Ahern
As I continue in my half-hearted attempts to fulfill my New Year's resolution, I am beginning to get a feel for the patterns of modern American literature, especially for the white men who disproportionately represent the more famous authors in its canon. There's a heady sense of entitlement to everything the American Dream promises: comfortable living earned through pluck and occasional effort, a pervasive expectation of safety (except for the occasional drunken scrape or tipsy car crash), a bo ...more
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction

My my. There's something about the pleasantville genre that never quite sat square with me- the difference between the public persona and the ineffable "self" that makes a mess of so much decorum. Well, no shit. Writing after 1968 affords us that judgement.

But here's John O'Hara, writing over the winter, publishing in '34. His apparently bibulous inclinations makes him one of the best writers about character and drink, at least on a technical level. But this portrait of a small town built on a d
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John O'Hara may not have had the most felicitous style of his generation, but he had plenty to say. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA rounds out my list of five English-language novels (in my case, all 20th-Century American novels). This is the underappreciated one; I can't honestly say that of BABBITT, THE GREAT GATSBY, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or even LOLITA.

The last day in the life of Julian English, just as the Great Depression is beginning to be felt. Realistic, gutsy, surprising, heartbreaking.
Kira Simion
May 18, 2017 marked it as to-read
The narrator, I'm told, is Death. That reminds me of The Book Thief in that way. ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Part of the challenge this summer is to read new-to-me authors. John O'Hara is definitely one I'll be reading more. I have complained to myself that starting a book is often slow, then I get accustomed to the author's style by about page 50 and it takes off. My mind needed no adjustment for O'Hara's writing style, and I was right in stride by page 2.

Gibbsville is a place unfamiliar to me. I never moved in these high social circles and, frankly, am pretty much unaware of them now. My experience d
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics-club
Julian English has everything a man could want in 1934 America---affluent background, beautiful wife, lovely home, rich friends, successful business---and yet, somehow, almost inexplicably, comes to destroy everything he has in the short space of 72 hours. It's the American dream turned nightmare, and it's horrific to watch, even from the pages of a book. A life overturned---and why? And for what? It's not clear and no one---not his friends, not his wife, not his parents, not even Julian himself ...more
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Alison and Nicky
Appointment in Samarra is an American Classic by John O'Hara. He describes the life of a young man in small town America before the Depression who has it all. When he makes a big mistake on Christmas his downward spiral is aided by people and events and shows that it is rather difficult to evade one's fate. This is also implied by the Arabian parable in the beginning of the book.
The book is very well written and , although it is depressing, I enjoyed it very much.
Jenn Ravey
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
In one of the greatest scenes I’ve read in recent memory, Julian English fantasizes about throwing his drink in the face of Harry Reilly. What has Harry done? Nothing, really. But at this particular dance, Harry Reilly tells story after story, and it’s not just that – Harry has a specific method to his storytelling, mannerisms of which Julian tires. But he dissuades himself, reminding himself that Harry has loaned him quite a bit of money to pull Julian out of a pinch at the Cadillac dealership. ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Pretty much my entire adult life I have had people at various times tell me what an amazing novel this is to read. In fact, it may have been my father who first told me about this book, and of course I promptly ignored his recommendation. Well, here I am, just a few months shy of turning 60 years old, and I have recently discovered the short stories and novels of John O'Hara.

Appointment in Samarra is really not much more than a longish novella, but every word, every sentence and every paragraph
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
O'Hara's timeless novel begins with W Somerset Maugham forboding epigraph Death Speaks.

Death speaks:
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from t
K.D. Absolutely
This novel is one of the Modern Library's 100 Best English novels of the 20th century. I had this in my to-be-read shelf for half a decade before I finally cracked this open. A favorite local author of mine, Abdon M. Balde mentioned this in his "Kislap" anthology of short-short stories. He said that the length of this book is exact: not a word is unnecessary.

So, I checked and yes, I agree. "Appointment in Samarra" is a light read, short and easily digestible. It tells the story of Julian English
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Told from a variety of viewpoints and through flashbacks, this often grim novel of manners centers on one Julian English, the owner of a Cadillac dealership, and his fall from society’s good graces. After drunkenly flinging a drink in the face of Harry Reilly at a party, Julian is rather unsettled to find that this act has deeper consequences than he realized. Reilly is well-liked, free with his money, was once a suitor of Julian’s wife before she married him, and has lent Julian himself a large ...more
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John Henry O'Hara was an American writer born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He initially became known for his short stories and later became a best-selling novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue. O'Hara was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the social ...more

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