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Seven Types of Ambiguity

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  4,343 ratings  ·  503 reviews
Seven Types of Ambiguity is a psychological thriller and a literary adventure of breathtaking scope. Celebrated as a novelist in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth, Elliot Perlman writes of impulse and paralysis, empty marriages, lovers, gambling, and the stock market; of adult children and their parents; of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law. C ...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published December 6th 2005 by Penguin Group USA (first published 2003)
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4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,343 ratings  ·  503 reviews

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Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, reviewed
A book about screwed up people and their screwed up lives! It’s like it was written specifically for me. The thing is, this book has got some flaws...big ones. But for the most part, the flaws are mitigated by good writing and by ambitious insight into human motivation—the factors that influence our behavior and interpersonal relationships. It’s like a Franzen novel, but with a psychological twist.

The Flaws

First of all, the connections in this novel are way too convenient. I could get past the f
Mar 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who aren't afraid of long books
This is one of my top fave favorite books. It is an ambitious undertaking, but the author succeeds beautifully. The story centers around one major event, as told from the viewpoint of seven different people who were all involved in the event. It doesn't just tell the event over and over again but deals with what leads up to it and what follows it depending on which narrator you are dealing with. Because the author chooses to divide the book into seven distinct part, by narrator, there is no conf ...more
Jun 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wasn’t really counting, but seven is a plausible tally for the types of ambiguity put forth here. I bet a lot of novels these days feature that many just to maintain their modern lit cred. What’s unambiguous is that there were seven parts to the book with seven different narrators, each with a key part of the story to tell. It centers around Simon who is still madly in love with Anna, an ex-girlfriend who broke up with him 10 years ago. He’s a hopeless romantic, but one infused with enough sen ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
I went into this with low expectations, expectations I'm now slightly ashamed of, since they were born of prejudice. Never having heard of it made me feel like it wouldn't be good (ridiculous), and with the comparisons to Roth and Franzen, I expected prose that was unimpeachable but not exciting and an ambitious story that failed to deliver. But Seven Types of Ambiguity is actually great.

Simon, the protagonist, kidnaps the son of an ex-girlfriend (though this isn't ever directly dramatized), an
If I'd had to guess, I would have said 'tour de force' is one of those expressions we use, but the French don't. Not that we do use it, it's one of those expressions you can't use because it's been watered down in that way, you know. The coffee is awesome. That kind of way.

To my surprise, however, I see this book, which the French love, described by them as a 'tour de force'. I can't help thinking that when the French use this expression they probably don't mean it is a trivial thing, slightly b
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I love long books. Most who know me know that I am a pretentious, pretentious man. I don't love long books because I am pretentious and long books make me look smart (I am pretentious because I explain why I am and why I am not pretentious - see, I've proven my point).

I love long books because they generally do a better job of capturing the complexity of life. This rule does not apply to all books that I love. Action adventure or fantasy stories should only include, as William Goldman puts it,
switterbug (Betsey)
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Akira Korosawa's film Rashomon is about a crime that is witnessed by several individuals who all have credible but polarized viewpoints of the event. SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY is an intellectual Rashomonian potboiler, a colossal coil of colliding and deviating entanglements. However, we KNOW how the crime occurred. But do we really know who is guilty, beyond the obvious defendant?

It is a world of contrasts and overlaps, of paradoxes and semblances, of poetry and corporate shenanigans, gambling an
I'm not worthy of reviewing a book like this. Really. Seven Types of Ambiguity is huge, both physically and contextually.

Read this book if:

--You like Rashomon-like explorations of the subjective nature of truth.
--You like overlapping narratives that do more to obfuscate a given event than illuminate it.
--Deep characterization is your bag.
--You have ever harbored even a passing interest in critical theory.
--You love Billie Holliday.
--You are are passionate about health care issues (this book e
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who like uber-structures.
Final Analysis:
A book that acts like a fine wine is hard to find: this one is such a book. It keeps getting better after it is finished being read; a very well-written work, it is magnanimous, comprehensive, lyrical, and prosaically refined, with a sharp eye on bringing out the depths of the normal. The only fault remains what I have referred to before and will, I think, call 'voice narration displacement.'

I think I may have discerned that Perlman in fact wrote parts 1, 5, 6 and 7 immediately
Paul Bryant
Nov 20, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Deduct one star for yet another version of the tart-with-the-heart-of-gold. That male fantasy has more legs than a centipede.
Nov 27, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: currentfiction
This novel took me forever to get through. I understand what the author was trying to do - interlace plot with different charcterizations by intertwining them. I just don't think Perlman executed it well. I found the characters extremely flat and annoying. I felt that Perlman at times was even showing off his writing ability through some of the characters. Basically, he writes in extremely wordy prose, trying to achieve an intellectual air. His use of first-person in the different narrations exc ...more
Jul 13, 2012 rated it liked it
It is surprising that I hadn't included this previously. There was at the time of its publication a certain buzz about the book, one hued all Franzen-like and I found out that it was availible in a local library outside of our county (this was before reciprocity) and I arranged for a friend to check out the novel and i quickly read such in the wake. It was very bleh; authorial wrinkles, people living suburban lives with a thoughtful poet at the core. Okay.
Jan 18, 2008 marked it as to-read
Shelves: i-own, need-to-finish
16 November 2011- argh, this is the third time that I've started this book. The thing is, I haven't given up on it for any particular reason in the past; more interesting books have just come my way but I put it down a few weeks ago to read The Marriage Plot and now I'm back to where I was the first two times - it's just not compelling enough to woo me back! I want to love it and I may even love it just a little bit, his writing is incredible and the story is interesting enough. Maybe it's becau ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with issues, I guess. Anyone really.
I got this book for Christmas two years ago from my family and was immediately intimidated by the size of the book, and the fact that it was given to me by my family, who know little about what kind of stuff I read.

I was very pleasantly suprised to find that I was immediately hooked after the first chapter. This might be my favorite, uh, modern dramatic novel ever.

The story is really great and the characters are very interesting and real as well. Perlman's voice is hypnotic. He sounds like he's
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
A gripping and hard to put down page-turner! Like someone in my reading group said, this book was like reading juicy gossip, but only more so since you also get a view into what each person is thinking. Each part is told from a different character's POV, so once you have an impression of someone, that impression can easily change once the same character is viewed from another POV - very interesting way of presenting a story.

I actually give it 4 1/2 stars, just short of 5 only because those are
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Even bitchy ole me can't find 'owt wrong with this book. It's a triumph, really.
Smart without being pretentious, gripping, well written, set in one of my favourite places and the characterisation is superb, and that's understating it.
Difficult to believe it's his first novel, or even his third.
Out of the 20 odd books I've consumed in the last month and a half or so, this was the best.
The best this year even. Maybe the best since I can remember. Wish so much there was more where that came from
Jul 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
The story of a pretentious, pseudo intellectual written by a pretentious, pseudo intellectual.

Said story is supposed to be told by seven different people, seven different viewpoints. At no point did any of these people feel any different from the next. Does Perlman understand that real human personalities are more than just words on a page? That they are complex, emotional beings? Apparently not.

He spends page after page saying "You see..." using his one dimensional characters to blather on abou
Jun 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is by far and away the longest book I have ever reached the end of. From the first two paragraphs I was hooked. The way Perlman writes about the protagonist's endearing - but ultimately over-romanticised and distorted - memories of his ex- grabbed me immediately. The image of the thoughtful, sexy woman, hair held with chopsticks, donning tortoise-shell glasses, sipping diet coke and reading in the bay window is a fantasy I share in, albeit a fairly pathetic and cliched one.

I found the chang
Dec 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you love words and imaginative phrases, this is a book that cannot be missed. With remarks like, “you would love the way he sees you,” Perlman at once writes a compelling story and poetically delivers the near truths that our romantic selves imagine real. Near truths about ourselves and the capacity of those we love.

The story itself is a ambitious and boldly intellectual tale told from seven perspectives about kidnapping and lost love. It's a little Jonathan Franzen, a little David Foster Wal
Mar 15, 2007 added it
Seven Types of Ambiguity is divided into seven chapters, each narrated by a different character. At the center of the story is Simon Heywood, and he's obsessed with Anna who left him a decade ago. Anna is unhappily married to Joe, but she stays in the marriage because of her son. Simon kidnaps her son in an attempt to win her back, creating havoc that boomerangs through many lives, including his psychiatrist and his friend, a prostitute who has Joe as one of her clients. The title is borrowed fr ...more
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Seven Types of Ambiguity is, without question, one of the best novels I have ever read. With that said, I am having a difficult time coming up with a way to describe what it's about without giving too much away. At its center, there's a kidnapping, but to say that this novel is about kidnapping is akin to saying that Don Quixote is about windmills. There is a kidnapping, yes, but the true heart of this novel is in the characters and their varied reactions to it.

Told in seven chapters, each narra
May 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beyond masterful. Over 600 pages of intellectual, emotional and intelligent brilliance. It hurts to think how many people would not like, or even understand, this book.

On page 609, there is a discussion about "unremitting acuity". There is a "division between those people who are burdened by the clarity with which they see the world and those who are not. For those who are not, no semblance of emotional statis or equilibrium is threatened only by things particular to them...But what about the o
Feb 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Well, I just realized that I meant to read the OTHER "Seven Types of Ambiguity", which is something I wish I would have discovered before having spent time reading 623 pages of a book I wouldn't have read if I had been paying better attention.

That being said, this book was an interesting look at one event and its consequences through the eyes and experiences of several intertwined lives.

Now I might read the OTHER one - and maybe get a new understanding of THIS one.

I stand corrected - this IS
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the wrong hands, this masterful psychological drama could have been a huge disaster. Centered around the kidnapping of a little boy, there's a lot going on here -- complicated contemporary adult relationships, dysfunctional parent-child relationships both past and present, infidelity, career challenges, the state of Australia's national health insurance, the law, psychiatry, sex, religion, gambling, Billie Holiday, Abel Meeropol...on and on it goes.

And if these modern, somewhat commonplace l
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are not with the zeitgeist, if you are a victim of it or if you resist it, you're out in the cold. You are left to sell crafts at weekend're marginal, you dont count. p169

There is a lot of room for ambiguity in the convoluted relationships of the 7 people connected here by their secrets as much as any affinity. EP in his fluid prose has unpacked for us seven perspectives, illuminating the complexity that riddles even the simplest facts. I especially appreciate how, in this
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I can't deny I enjoyed this book. Well, sort of. It is very well written and its author manages to keep up the narrative flow for the best part of its 600+ pages. Having the story unfold through the prism of different characters is not an original find, but a classic narrative device that is very effectively deployed here by Elliot Perlman. Each of the sections really breathes the spirit of the narrator. The spiritual and emotional wasteland of Joe's mind, Mitch's staccato intelligence, the suav ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it

"There's the ambiguity of human relationships, for instance. A relationship between two people, just like a sequence of words, is ambiguous if it is open to different interpretations."

The complexity of human relationships makes it possible for two people who went through the same experience to perceive and describe it in different ways.

Seven Types of Ambiguity brings all the perspectives together to try to get a look at the whole picture.

Simon Heywood is an unemployed teacher who decides to seek
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This was definitely a page turner of a book. It is split into 7 parts - with 6 different narrators. Of course, all these 6 narrators are linked to each other, whether they know it or not.

What I appreciated about this book: I love a story told from different perspectives. It's so intriguing to see how a different character views the same relationship or same scenario. It brings the world to life in a more accurate way: we each experience it differently. It also means you avoid boredom, as a new
Michael Battaglia
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's bad ideas, there's monumentally bad ideas, there's me trying to play basically any sport, and then there's Simon. Unemployed and pining for a woman who left him over a decade ago, he goes and does that any rational person in his situation would do . . . look for a job and find fulfilling purpose in the wonder that is the everyday and mundane.

Really? No, geez, of course he doesn't do that, that's silly. He goes and kidnaps her young child instead, which I suppose in the scheme of things i
Jerry Balzano
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, re-read
A magnificent book. If the overlap in the stories and points of view of the different characters, and the "ambiguity" about "what happened" this creates is going to annoy you, either check yourself severely, or read something else, but don't "project" your problems onto the book. Because of the way the story was told, I believe it was utterly necessary for the narrative, with each change-of-character's point of view, to pick up, not quite write the previous narrator left off, but somewhat prior ...more
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Elliot Perlman is an Australian author and barrister. He has written two novels and one short story collection. His work "condemns the economic rationalism that destroys the humanity of ordinary people when they are confronted with unemployment and poverty". This is not surprising in a writer who admires Raymond Carver and Graham Greene because they "write with quite a strong moral centre and a st ...more
“You know you're in love with somebody when you wake up next to them, comfortable despite your breath smelling like the week-old water at the bottom of a vase, when you are terribly excited to see them, to talk to them again, having missed them after all that sleep. ” 58 likes
“Hell is the special pain that dwells in that loss which you yourself have caused” 31 likes
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