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The Sunken Cathedral

2.88  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  133 reviews
From the National Book Award nominee and author of the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling A Short History of Women, a deeply moving, "lyrical, ominous, and unexpectedly funny" (Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers) novel that follows a cast of characters as they negotiate one of Manhattan's swiftly changing neighborhoods, extreme weather, and the unease of ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Scribner
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Average rating 2.88  · 
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Ron Charles
In 2009, Kate Walbert published A Short History of Women, a complex novel that swirls around several generations of one family to explore what it meant and means to be female in the modern age. The Sunken Cathedral may be a shorter history of women, but its no less insightful about the mysterious ways our lives play out.

Like so many elements of this rich new novel, its title points backward and forward. The people of Brittany have long told of a church submerged underwater, and now as the
Mar 30, 2015 rated it did not like it
I won an ARC of this book via the GoodReads First Reads programme. This review in its entirety was originally posted at

Unfortunately, I didnt really feel for the story. The first few pages were disconcerting, but I thought it just took some getting used to, getting a feel of the storytelling and slipping into the lives of these characters. But about a third into the story, I wasnt feeling for anything at allthe story, the characters,
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this in NYC during a March snowstorm and wondering why so many things I liked about the city weren't there anymore. So it was very fitting as this is a novel about the city beset by storms, luxury condos, police surges.

Its a gorgeous book made up of interweaving voices - a French woman who came to America after WWII, her young tenant uneasily negotiating life in a post 9/11, post Sandy world, a painting teacher in an illegal Chelsea squat. Footnotes to the text take the reader even
(2.5) Much has been made of Walberts Impressionistic style. There is some beautiful writing here for sure, but I think it would lend itself better to short stories as there is not enough plot or character continuity to latch onto. Essentially the novel is about a set of New Yorkers in a Chelsea brownstone (chiefly Marie, an old woman who came to America from France after World War II) and their disparate memories and experiences. I also didnt feel Walbert followed through on the subtle ...more
May 21, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for free access to an ARC of this book.

Have you ever stood before a painting of Chagall, and you've got technicolor cows and moons and barns and villages and flames and eyes and kerchiefs and hands and stars all jumping out at you? Stuff is flying all over the place in a manner that is decontextualized and nonchronological and whimsical, and yet so powerfully imbued with such symbolic import that even if you are very young and unaware of the precise details
Kristi Lamont
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book made me gnaw my cuticles. It made me feel, all over again, like country-come-to-town in an American Literature class in undergrad with a professor who wanted to make sure I went away knowing exactly how unsophisticated I was. It made me dread growing old and looking back on my life. And? I did not like the conceit of the footnotes. That said, it was a very well-written book. It was obviously just not written for me.
Megan Baxter
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Every book I sit down with I hope I like. While a good snarky review cleanses the palate every once in a while, I would really prefer to read awesome books. And so it was with a great sense of relief that I discovered that the first ARC I'd ever gotten contained a book that I quite enjoyed.

And yet, I'm quite sure it's not for everyone.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
My second read by Walbert, exactly same impression. There is undeniable skill with which she weaves a dreamlike narrative of a Manhattan about to go by the way of Atlantis, but the writing is too detached somehow for a reader to really emote. The structure of the book was quite clever, with asides taking up a significant space of each chapter, something usually only seen in nonfiction. Yet for all its cleverness, the book seems too aloof to engage. This novel was very much like its cover, beauty ...more
Orie at Let's Take A Shelfie
When I was checking out Simon & Schuster's summer releases, I added The Sunken Cathedral to my TBR list. The description really peaked my interest. When I found out I won an ARC of the book through a Goodreads giveaway I added it to the top of my April pile because I was so excited despite the fact that it doesn't get released until June.

Unfortunately, for me, the book was not what I hoped it would be. I found it really difficult to get into as the story jumped from one character's
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Sunken Cathedral is an ominous yet humane masterpiece.
Its characters are well-drawn and believable, from the widow who lets the phone ring so she can hear her husband's voice on the answering machine to the teenager who happily loses her virginity (in a scene of exquisite ordinariness) to "the coolest in the pack, the long-banged boy."
The Sunken Cathedral will both upset and console you. Urban and human decay, post-9/11 anxiety, and drowning are some of the book's major motifs. Heavy
Oct 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
A check out from the Malaga Cove Library, I was actually drawn to the book by its cover--and by the author whose book A Short History of Women I read a few years ago. After the fact, I read this review which explained a lot to me that I didn't get at the time: There are multiple narrators and the setting is the Chelsea District of NYC. The characters lives are interwoven and often there is an asterisk in the narrative and then a footnote about what had ...more
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Old women don't often get their due in contemporary fiction, so it was a pleasure to see into the lives of Simone and Marie. There's a very limited cast of characters here, but Walbert does a wonderful job of teasing out the multitudes each person contains. I enjoyed the recursive, non-linear storytelling here, as well as the use of footnotes to illuminate the characters' inner lives. I first thought the short chapters would be best savored one at a time, almost like a set of linked stories, but ...more
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Note to self, books described by overblown adjectives seldom measure up to said adjectives. I think that this book would have been better served as short stories. The characters barely connected, and a couple of them seemed to not connect at all. The footnotes, at the bottom of the pages, often continued on to the next page. I didn't know if I was to read them at the bottom of the page, find a stopping point or between chapters. A few of them I couldn't tell what character was being referenced. ...more
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Marie and Simone are best friends. They live in Chelsea, both war brides and widowed. They decide to take an art class and meet Helen in the class taught by Sid. The 4 form an unlikely friendship. Bouncing back to the past and returning to the present, this story keeps you glued to pages. This book looks into love, friendship and marriage. It examines parent and child and schools and home life. Can't think of enough adjectives to describe how much I loved this story. It is a wonderful read that ...more
Will Dunfey
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting indeed...a novel about the past, present, and future; about Manhattan and its changes and challenges; about memory and aging; about love and its loss; about family and its dysfunctions; about modern parenting and its downside.

There is a decided narrative and central characters, but many subsidiary stories and minor characters the reader learns about through asterisked notes at the bottom of many pages. In effect, multiple narratives on the same page...
Apr 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned-dnf
just not getting into it. no depth of connection. footnotes in a novel don't work for me.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A derivative merry go round of NY fiction at best.
Margaret Schwind
There may be a good story somewhere in this book, but the truly horrendous narration of the audio version makes it impossible to find. I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to have the author pull double duty as narrator, but her dull monotone was completely unsuited to the job.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Kate Walbert doesnt write in a straightforward way and I sometime found myself a little at sea when reading her latest novel appropriately here in a book that frequently references water and flooding. There are multiple narrative strands, multiple characters and multiple points of view, with the story often shifting between past and present. The book centres on a group of women in New York, particularly Marie, an elderly woman who enrols in an art class with the equally elderly Sid Morris. All ...more
Sabrina Laitinen
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I won a copy of "The Sunken Cathedral" by Kate Walbert through a GOODREADS giveaway. I struggled to get into this book, it took me several attempts but once I understood the style of writing I settled in for what I can only describe as a metaphorical read. The main characters are old friends Marie and Simone, and the plot - and several sub-plots are centered around these two ladies. Situations are juxtaposed; it was difficult at times to keep myself "in the loop" as there are several footnote ...more
Yannick Serres
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Done! That's mostly all I liked from this book ... being done. It's pretty rare I have such a hard time reading a book. I like mostly anything.

The figures of speech used are pretty amazing, but it makes the reading not as fun as it could be.

It could, or should, have been written in short stories. It would have been a first step in making this book readable.

This book is full of long footnotes, metaphors, pun and author's acrobatics.

The story in itself looked funny and interesting, but I should
Sari Wilson
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lyrical, elliptical, and formally playful, I really enjoyed this novel. The images have stayed with me, and even more the FEELING of these woman and their lives. Walbert does this so well--each character she touches, she illuminates for us, though her magic. One really interesting thing about this novel, and a brave thing, is the use of footnotes alongside the main narrative, which gave my reading experience a kind of feeling of sinking into a dreamworld, a nonlinear world. She creates in this ...more
Aug 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Reluctant to think so poorly of a book by Kate Walbert but this one was a disappointment; anything good coming from it was marred by the terrible use of footnotes which strike me as annoying, distracting and pretentious. It seems to be a popular "literary" trend and I've noticed Joyce Carol Oates, T.C. Boyle and Junot Diaz using footnotes in novels. Walbert's wonderful prose (outstanding in Our Kind and A Brief History of Women) was trounced by this style and didn't help the already vague, ...more
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I think if i lived in or around the Chelsea neighborhood in NYC I would have liked this novel better. Everything about the book seemed to be just out of my reach. I couldn't connect with the place, the time or the characters. I see others compare this work to an impressionist painting and I think that is a good description. There are detailed stories of the people who live in this neighborhood but it also feels vague and disjointed, often jumping in time and place. I liked the characters and I ...more
Casi Willis
Feb 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
The description of this book sounded like a lighthearted story of women going through life changes. I found it quite depressing and did not get the feel of any meaningful relationships throughout the entire book. The style of writing was very disjointed to me. I had to reread many pages to remember which character was being discussed. The footnotes were very random and were hard to blend into the reading. The author's style may be enjoyed by those who look for more symbolic writing, but that is ...more
Jun 11, 2015 rated it liked it
An incredibly unusual read, some intriguing characters and well written. I didn't read this book at particular speed and so lost the thread at times, mostly because I found the use of footnotes confusing and difficult to navigate on a kindle. This aspect may have worked better in paper form - I did like the idea that this gave the reader an opportunity to learn more about each character away from the main thrust of the narrative. A meandering and philosophical novel.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really liked this. The combination of New York and using the climate and general tenor of the city for currency rather than the easy benchmarkstech or current eventsmade it dreamy and contemporary at the same time, which I thought was a totally winning combination. I especially liked her gentle take on aging. And art.

Full review now up at Like Fire.
Susan Ovans
Jan 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Got to page 75. This was just unreadable. The lengthy "footnotes" were an author's conceit and annoying as all can be. They detracted from the narrative, which I hadn't found all that compelling. Maybe other readers can afford to be more generous with their time, but I am no longer going to slog through stories that can't engage my interest within a reasonable page count.
Davida Chazan
This novel is stunningly lyrical and limned (to "depict or describe in painting or words" or "suffuse or highlight (something) with a bright color or light") story of storms and life in 21st Century New York. Read my review of this amazing novel here.
May 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reminded me some of Winesburg, Ohio, but set in present day Chelsea, Manhattan. It's consistently smart and funny, and even the footnotes (which was David Foster Wallace's bag) work to create a splendid splintered collage of impending ruin and confusion.
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Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.

She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002

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