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3.8  ·  Rating details ·  3,209 Ratings  ·  391 Reviews
The first major novel by the author of the critically-acclaimed short story collection Whites.

A comedy of manners on the grandest scale, the story revolves around two Americans on the loose (one of them on the prowl) in developing Africa. It follows a woman's search for a worthy male, which takes her from her academic anthropology studies to a utopian matriarchal community
Published August 19th 1993 by Vintage (first published September 3rd 1991)
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Stephen Witt
A 55 year-old man writing as a 32 year-old woman is a conceit that seems destined to fail. But the narrative voice overwhelms you with its startling combination of neurotic insecurity, hyper-literary pretension and genuine academic insight. About a third of the way I began to wonder if I hadn't stumbled across some sort of post-Nabokovian masterpiece.

Then begins the heart of the story, which details her infatuation and love affair with a boring, quasi-messianic, intellectual narcissist. At this
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading
Not a full review, just a few thoughts in the moment of rereading...first of all, it is still somewhat jarring how different this is from Whites, his short story collection, although there are traces of the novel in the earlier collection--an analogy of Dubliners straight to Ulysses while bypassing Portrait might be apt, not in terms of experimentation with language but in terms of density of thought, consciousness. Midway through this rereading, I am struck not so much by how much richness Rush ...more
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclubbooks
I think the author was trying to see how many fancy SAT words he could fit into one book. He fit in a lot, and it was meh.
Mar 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
This book was really engrossing, at the same time it basically presented me with a vocabulary lesson unlike no other. Literally--I finally just started keeping a list of the words I didn't know, because cracking the dictionary every time got to be chore. It became an exercise in picking up meaning from context. And *still* it was an utterly fabulous read.

Imagine my amusement when right after revisiting Mating after many years due to putting together my Goodreads list, I came across it discussed
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: women and men.
Maybe I am shallow and narrow and lack the brainpower to fully appreciate this book, but to me it is the best love story. I reference it mentally almost everyday. To cross the Kalahari for the mere chance for a connection! To be a planless drifter in Africa--to be too cutting and smart and still see this chance for love. She is my hero. Endlessly quotable. And the end cracked my heart. I'm gifting it to a boy who would do well to heed Nelson Denoon's example.
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
Mating shouldn't work on any level. A first person narrative about a young failing female anthropologist falling in love with an older American man who has founded an egalitarian feminist commune in the heart of Southern Africa is just too cutely exotic, too cheaply high concept to work.

But somehow, Norman Rush manages to make her and her narration into a stunning reflection and examination of intellectual and romantic life. Like a lot of other "big" novels from the 1990's, Mating touches on a d
Jan 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of a cerebral, overanalyzing woman who doesn’t want the mediocre or the nearly-great and sets her eyes on the one great man that she finds. She’s an anthropology student, working in Botswana on a failed dissertation. He’s an overachieving and well-known intellectual who’s running an experimental matriarchal-utopian village in the middle of the Kalahari. She risks her life to get to him – to get to the “intellectual love.” What follows is an insanely good introspective and analy ...more

Cover Design: The design on the cover is a detail from Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. (Middle panel, blue globe in the middle of the lake.)

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Higher Resolution Image
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books, but I am afraid to read it again and am always afraid to recommend it to other people. Many people dislike it, and it's certainly extremely pretentious. I think it mostly depends on whether you understand and buy that the character is pretentious. I don't know - when I read it, it rang true, particularly the main character's relationship with her ambitions, her strange relationship, and her body.
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-the-best
A brilliant exploration of the limits of human analysis in the face of natural forces. Along with Infinite Jest and Middlemarch, one of the few books I've read that are so impossibly intelligent they seem written by a higher life form. Yes, the vocabulary level seems pretty insane, but given the narrator's education level and insecurity, is completely appropriate.
Ben Loory
Dec 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
brilliant and often hilarious; 500 pages packed with fascinating insights and ideas and jokes and facts and stories. one of the most overwhelming books i've ever encountered. at times it felt like i was drowning. why, why, why so much. how do i get out of here. will it ever end. how old will i be when it ends and what will be left of me, how will i be changed, will my brain still work, will i be an insufferable human being. but then it ended. and i was pretty much the same. it gives you a lot to ...more
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
Most pages of this book contain not only wondrous English but also some French and Latin, with frequent use of Setswana and Afrikaans, though there is a glossary for the latter two. In fact the verb venir on the last page changed my understanding of the whole preceding novel. So, ok, read it with the your Larousse and your OED (which should also serve for the Latin) at your side.

Much later-
After reading Mortals now too, the passages in here that are directly 'about' mating stand out:
What was no
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny by: Sps
Shelves: character, language
Mating is super smart. On every page, Rush casually name-drops obscure philosophers, touches on long-standing academic debates, and refers to brainy books. It makes you feel smart when you get one (Like, wow! I got that Wallace Stevens reference!), but it makes you feel dumb when you don’t (WTF does perihelion mean again?). Reading this is like reading the encyclopedia, except with more funny. It did feel a little pretentious at times but it taught me words like evaginated, which does not mean w ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It appears that many folks really love this book. I have to admit that I was mostly bemused. A white male author writing in a female voice about Botswana; pretty ballsy. His protagonist is not someone with whom I'd like to have a cup of coffee. Of course, I don't expect every book's heroine to be someone I'd like to hang out with, but this is a female William F. Buckley; using monosyllabic, obscurely sourced words very deliberately, it seemed. She speaks of her humble beginnings and I was left w ...more
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: folks interested in "international development"
I fall on the love side for this book.
First, a confession: I read it after spending a semester in a West African nation studying that nebulous concept of "international development." Power, powerless, white black man woman city farmer, lack of water underlying all attempts at societal change.
This book expounds (propounds? sermonizes) on one man's vision of development, as viewed by an enamored woman, in a much more readable manner than the text book that was assigned to me that semester did. We
Vincent Saint-Simon
Dear Sirs and Madams,

This book could have easily received five stars if Mr. Rush knew how to stick a landing.


Mating reminded me a bit of Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland in that it took me fifty or so pages to realize that the unnamed narrator was supposed to be female, and only then because she spent a page or so lamenting the width of her hips. I recognize that many other readers found this an extremely convincing portrait of womanhood, but as far as I'm concerned the only thing Rush nailed was the level of obsession over an ex-boyfriend that we can occasionally bring to bear, and I'm honestly not su ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did not expect to be giving this book only three stars. It had a lot going for it-- first of all, the fact that the narrator is a neurotic, egregiously overeducated female doctoral student adrift on another continent with a floundering dissertation and a nagging feeling of emptiness certainly made the book easy to relate to (indeed, Rush pulls off the female voice, and particularly the female graduate student voice, so well ) Furthermore, the sparkling effervescence of the prose, bubbling over ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It always surprised me how few pygmalious, polymathic men had ever been interested in sprucing me up, given that I'm so interested and available, and that, as everyone notices first about me, I remember everything."

I do love our unnamed narrator, uncomfortably, the way one loves a friend who grows tedious gushing about her new love. I love that I had to look up words and that even if I can never say "inter pocula" to describe someone who is inebriated without feeling a little pretentious, it's
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I adored this book. I couldn't stand for it to end (but I do know Rush has others, thank goodness!). There are so many ideas in this book - rich w/ thoughts, and all are so human and accessible and fascinating. On some levels it's like reading a book about yourself, no matter where you fit in... human anthropology, why we are attracted to certain people, the history of religion and where it fits, socialism, wealth/poverty, male/female, silence/'s all there! The language is dense and co ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
oh, this is just a great novel. about love, and trying to fall in it. and how difficult that can be, when its not ridiculously easy that is.
fucking a, national book award is blogging a book a day (just read "the hair of harold roux" which is a great novel) and now i cant stop reading national book award winners
Jan 22, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Julie
Shelves: fiction
This is one of those books like Donna Tartt's The Secret History that everyone else loved and raved about and I hated. I can't remember a thing about it though (read it 15 years ago).
Megan McQuillan
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah B.
Nov 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Bob La
This was an interesting book for me, because I identified on many levels with the narrator, who is 32 (check), redheaded (I pretend), and an anthropology student on a bit of hiatus from her research (I started out in ethnomusicology, which is a branch of it). So even though the author is a middle-aged man, it is interesting to see his take on what a woman of that place in life would think/do. I liked seeing a woman who wasn't trivial, was a thinker, maybe even an overthinker, which to me was spo ...more
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edit: I read this book almost ten years ago. In my estimate, it remains one of the smartest books I've read in my life. If this review does not express that, it's my failing.


Get this: a male author and female protagonist team up to discuss -- what else? -- male and female relationships.

It sometimes seems like authors don't pay much attention to barriers between the reader, the narrator, and the author these days. In Norman Rush, we have an author who is more than prepared to have a bit of fun w
Dennis Junk
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Narrated by a character who's more fully realized--more of a character--than almost any real person you'll meet in the workaday world, "Mating" is distinguished by a style (or an ideolect, as the narrator might call it) that's simultaneously high academy and scatteredly neurotic. You become so caught up with the quirkily impressive and yet endearingly vulnerable anthropologist at the center of the story that the fascinating premise of the plot takes a while to sneak up on you. Her thesis project ...more
First, some practical advice: Read Mating with a dictionary at your side and brush up on your French and Latin! Norman Rush imbues his sesquipedalian narrator with an exquisite, expansive vocabulary, and she can be hard to keep up with at times. I found this to be delightfully challenging and entertaining, because I’ve always loved books that make me work (I filled up four pages in my notebook with words to look up from this novel), but I acknowledge that this requirement (of having to read with ...more
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Somehow I missed reading “Mating” when it first came out in 1991, but I am so glad that I found it and discovered author Norman Rush. This is one of the best and most honest explorations of adult love that I have ever read.
The story is set in Botswana in 1980s. The narrator, a young female anthropologist, has come to work on her thesis on nutrition among the tribes, but it’s not going well. She’s wondering whether to go back to Stanford and regroup when she attends a lecture by an interesting in
Nov 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, this was great. Almost 5 stars.

There is so much to enjoy about this novel--the sheer ambition, the wordplay, the painfully insightful narrator, the high-wire conceit of a male author writing first-person womanhood so confidently, the detours on socialism, Shakespeare, etc. It also happens to get "Africa" (scare quotes deliberate) more right than most things I've read.

A note on this novel's rather (in)famous wordplay and vocabulary. I am normally not a fan of wordplay for its own sake. My b
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THIS BOOK IS SO DENSE!! 2 53 Dec 03, 2008 02:43PM  
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Norman Rush (born October 24, 1933 in Oakland, California) is an American novelist whose introspective novels and short stories are set in Botswana in the 1980s. He is the son of Roger and Leslie (Chesse) Rush. He was the recipient of the 1991 National Book Award and the 1992 Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize for his novel Mating.

Rush was born in San Francisco and graduated from S
More about Norman Rush...

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“For me love is like this: you're in one room or apartment which you think is fine, then you walk through a door and close it behind you and find yourself in the next apartment, which is even better, larger, more floorspace, a better view. You're happy there and then you go into the next apartment and close the door and this one is even better. And the sequence continues, but with the odd feature that although this has happened to you a number of times, you forget: each time your new quarters are manifestly better and each time it's breathtaking, a surprise, something you've done nothing to deserve or make happen. You never intend to go from one room onward to the next—it just happens. You notice a door, you go through, and you're delighted again.” 4 likes
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