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Water Music

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,926 ratings  ·  262 reviews
Alternate Cover Edition can be found here and here.

T.C. Boyle's riotous first novel, now in a new edition for its 25th anniversary

Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music, a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late
Paperback, 25th Anniversary Edition, 437 pages
Published 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 1981)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  3,926 ratings  ·  262 reviews

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Science (Fiction) Nerd Mario
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boyle-t-c
This is definitively Boyles best, also first, novel and its completely different than his other works.

In general, Boyle is dark, close to depressing and the jokes are the same, good, but quite kind of hardcore dark comedy style. Water music is smooth, funny, clever and not in a 20th-century setting, as most of his other novels and I would be unable to say if it is the same author if I read this and one of his other novels after another.

It criticizes colonialism, racism, white mans burden,
An ambitious but messy novel, which for me was more of a heroic failure than a triumphant success. I like the idea a lot: a fictionalised account of Mungo Park's travels to find the source of the Niger River, interspersed with the story of an invented London rogue called Ned Rise. The general approach is a sort of knockabout picaresque style, a comic novel of adventures, but unfortunately this does leave the whole thing feeling rather caricaturish. The London scenes in particular are like a ...more
Vit Babenco
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“The sun scorches the sky as if it were newly created, as if it were flexing its muscle, hammering out the first link in a chain of megatonic nuclear events, flaring up with all the confidence of youth and all the promise of eternal combustion. Which is to say it is hot. Damnably hot. And as quiet as the surface of some uninhabitable and forbidden planet.”
And there is nothing new under the sun except some new books…
Water Music, named after Georg Friedrich Händel’s suite, written in the exotic
Apr 13, 2009 rated it liked it
A third of the way through. I'm enjoying the read, but I'm still waiting for the "hilarious" part.
Finished at last!
If the Washington Post book reviewer had actually read this book, which I seriously doubt, he would have written a completely different comment. Rather than "hilarious", I would say Ned Rise's and Mungo Park's "adventures" crossing Africa were "disturbing".
The plot is clever, the presentation spellbinding, the meaning, if any, obscure. No one ends up a happy camper afer all that
Feb 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A literary but compelling book from T.C. Boyle. It's his first novel, but worth reading. I'm enjoying it a lot, but then again, Boyle is one of my favorites. I've enjoyed his use of humor and historical settings in the past.
Now that I'm done with the book, I'd have to say that it was a tragic comedy. It reminded me of Steinbeck in terms of the tragic nature of the characters and what happens to them. It was a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary books. I had to have my
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
Another one from Boyle that was immensely enjoyable - funny, witty, bawdy, and sometimes shocking. Great writer! This book was Boyle's first novel. It's basically the story of Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer who was the first European to see the Niger River in Africa. During the first 3/4 of the novel, the story switches from Mungo's adventures to the story of Ned Rise a thief, scoundrel, and all-round con man in the filthy streets of late 18th century London. Although I did really enjoy ...more
Christopher Rex
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book should've been 200 pages shorter. Way too long and not engaging enough. The characters and story-lines are funny and Boyle is an excellent writer, but he wasn't able to keep the attention over such a long period w/ this theme.
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Another great book by Boyle. It reminded me of every book you ever read--seriously--it had an element of all. A little Dickens, Conrad, Twain; an Odyssey! Some Shakespeare. I am completely amazed at the talents of this guy. And this was his first book. Still can't believe his command of the language and syntax. Yikes!
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: story lovers
One of my favorite books of all time. I want to re-read it. Thrilling, adventurous, funny, sad, unusual, and beautifully told.
Carol Wagers
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Carol Wagers by: found by accident @ Borders
I read this ages ago: absolutely loved it, the picaresque humor appealed to me so much. TC Boyle is one of my favorite writers.
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Boyle’s imagination is inexhaustible and the stories he weaves are finely and masterfully detailed and entertaining. I am not a fan of comedy books and funny literature, I prefer my reads full of drama, crying, and misery – the darker the better. But this one made me chuckle, shiver, and then contemplate on how high a price people sometimes pay in order to achieve their biggest dreams.
T.C. Boyle tells the story of Mungo Park, a Scottish doctor and explorer set to map the river Niger, suffering
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rereading, t-c-boyle
By the time this novel was released, T. C. Boyle had already proven himself to be a master of the short story. Obviously, his first novel was highly-anticipated, and if it had been a clunker, it might have destoryed an otherwise promising career. Fortunately for him (and for anyone lucky enough to read this novel), Boyle hits a grand slam out of the park on his first step up to the plate.

Boyle's first novel, set in the late eighteenth century, chronicles the partnership of British thief and
Nicole Doiron
Jun 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
This book was definitely entertaining during its first half. During the first Niger exploration, i found myself enthralled in the characters and whatever happened to them. However, the second trip to the Niger, i just couldn't care less. Although i have to give credit to TC Boyle for being an extremely talented writer with amazing details and humor (even if Water Music is the only book of his that i read), i found this story just too long for what it was worth in the end. I'm just glad it's ...more
Steve Ochs
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'll get into more detail when if I can find a moment, but T.C. Boyle is my favorite author these days and this book, his first, is a sprawling epic that blends intense danger with hilarity! I know; that's impossible. Not in the hands of Boyle. If you think you'd enjoy the cultural quirkiness of Confederacy of Dunces in a smash up with the humidity and adventure of Michael Crichton's Congo, this book will make you very happy.

My husband forced me to read this book during our vacation. I just forgot to add it to my TBR. I have to create a single shelf for it, I think, because it is not what I normally read. But it is what my husband reads and likes. I liked it too.
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
I'm not sure if I loved or hated this book.


1) the exquisite wordplay
2) the fun vocabulary
3) some parts were hilarious


1) the plot was meandering and not well crafted
2) too ribald for my taste
3) bad ending

Fun book club choice!
Kunal Basu-dutta
Aug 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. A roller-coaster of hilarity, pathos, and despondency (a combination as odd as it is wonderful). The first book I thought of when reading this was "Heart of Darkness" which, I believe, makes sense what with the exploration of the "dark continent" and the Congo. That, however, is the only real connection. Boyle throws his characters into the worst of situations and then, after a glimmer of hope, makes it even more terrible. You end up aching for any of them to come out ...more
Scott Adelson
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
The first novel of the always funny and insanely observant T. Coraghessan Boyle, Water Music is an historical and satirical examination of two sadly misguided, yet somehow majestic and even glorious tragic heroes—conman Ned Rise and the great adventurer Mungo Park. Taking place largely in Imperial British West Africa, the novel’s lavish language and plot are as twisted as its main characters who come together in the late-1770s/early-1800s in a quest to find fame and fortune—and the source of the ...more
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dreamers and Discoverers
Absolutely one of my most favourite books! The best story - connecting luck and bad luck, love and hate, friendship and treachery, civilisation and the human character to accept exclusively the familiar - I've read in ... my whole life, I guess.
Dec 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mar 27, 2013 rated it liked it
A hysterical, inventive, exotic, thought provoking, and wildly entertaining novel for about three quarters of the book, but it ultimately ends on a bit of a sour note. After having read "The Women", "Water Music" is the second T.C. Boyle novel that I've tackled this past year, and while I absolutely love his writing style and whimsical use of language to describe and accentuate his story ("an out of sorts baboon", "even the sailors- the elder of whom once rode out a typhoon off the Marquesas- ...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in September 2002.

The Georgian England portrayed in Hogarth's etchings is the inspiration for Boyle's lusty historical novel. Its spiritual home, where its best passages are set, is the gin soaked city of London, its alleys and gutters, whores and thieves. That is also the origin of one of Water Music's main characters, con man, vagabond, grave robber and would-be gentleman Ned Rise. His struggles against a capricious fate - every time he begins to make
Mungo Park, a Scottish lad, sets out on a voyage to Africa to be the first white man (hon-kee in the local tongue) to clap eyes on the river Niger. Adventure ensues.[return][return]I inevitably have to draw comparisons here to Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and not just because I finished it two weeks ago. Set in pretty much the same era (18th century) around jolly olde London and other, more exotic locations, they had many similarities: the scientifically inclined blundering straight man, the ...more
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, own-a-copy, africa
Alright, it’s chaotic and it tends to be too much in terms of sex, violence, and disgust. And still, we’re at the end of the 18th century in places like London and African countries like (nowadays) the Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Niger. I can readily believe that it were stinking and dangerous places, that people at that time killed when necessary or even just for a profit, that life and survival was hardship and struggle.
For that, I found it extremely interesting to have the story of Ned Rise, a
Jun 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully written book, but not in a way that is distracting from the interesting and imaginative plot. It's the kind of writing that you barely even notice (a good thing, to my mind). The characters, though not exactly real, were full - reading it is right in between a myth and a Virginia Woolf novel, which is basically perfect. It's funny where it means to be with suspense in all the right places. In fact, the only reason I can't give it five stars is pretty stupid: there's an ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
This is one of the big classics everyone should read. This was my first TC Boyle book and I am a follower since them. He wrote some pretty boring books, too, like “Budding Prospect” which was very boring and stopped me from reading another Boyle book for years, but he got me back with “After the plague”. “Water Music” is a travel story. Never boring, very entertaining, funny and sometimes you even learn something about discovering the dark continent. Sometimes hilarious, “spoiler” when one of ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"The year was 1795. George III was dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with his own spittle, the Notables were botching things in France, Goya was deaf, De Quincey a depraved pre-adolescent. George Bryan 'Beau' Brummell was smoothing down his first starched collar, Young Ludwig van Beethoven, beetle-browed and twenty-four, was wowing them in Vienna with his Piano Concerto no. 2, and Ned Rise was drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig & Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane."

Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
T. Coraghessan Boyle is a tremendous teller of vivid tales. I prefer his short fiction, which is perhaps why this is my favorite among his novels. It was originally developed as a series of short stories featuring the Mungo Park character in Paris Review, then reworked, adding the Dickensian character of Ned Rise, whose life provides the counterpoint.
Alternating between the two as their lives rise, fall and ultimately converge, the novel rushes along. It's hilarious and serious, sad and wry. It
Daily Alice
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Historical fiction readers, descriptive writing lovers, anyone who loves adventure.
Recommended to Daily by: Lifetime Reading Plan
This book is an adventure through the lives of two very different men whose path's cross on an African expedition in the 18th Century. The story is funny, moving, bawdy & shocking in equal measure. I was never sure how it would turn out in the end.

One of the best books I've read in a while. Wonderfully descriptive writing, a cracking tale with well drawn & believable characters, full of strange twists & coincidences as well as surprises. Laughing out loud in some places, catching
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T. Coraghessan Boyle (also known as T.C. Boyle, is a U.S. novelist and short story writer. Since the late 1970s, he has published seventeen novels and eleven collections of short stories. He won the PEN/Faulkner award in 1988 for his third novel, World's End, which recounts 300 years in upstate New York. He is married with three children. Boyle has been a Distinguished Professor of English at the ...more
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