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October Light

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  940 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. New Directions is excited to reissue the Gardner classics, beginning with October Light, a complex relationship rendered in a down-to-earth narrative. October Light is one of John Gardner's masterworks. The penniless widow of a once-wealthy dentist, Sally Abbot now lives in the Vermont farmhouse of her older brother, 72-yea ...more
Paperback, 440 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published November 12th 1976)
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Vit Babenco
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wheels within wheels… Stories within stories… Now that the television has been shot down dead by her brother, the heroine has nothing to do but to read indignantly a trashy thriller in isolation…
They might be a little like characters in movies—a good deal in her paperback reminded her more of movies than of life, and perhaps that was why, as she’d known from the beginning, it was trash, really, or at least not the kind of book Horace would read—but there was something, even in a novel like this
Jan 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: libras who like pizza and the color royal purple
Recommended to Mariel by: Robert Beveridge
Brother versus sister. James is in his '70s in the 1970s (have I ever shared my theory about guys who were hot in the '70s? The theory is that they are not hot any longer. D'oh! I'm trying to be a sane goodreader now). Sally has run out of money in her eighties (she'd be rich again in the '80s if she took the drug dealing tips from her trash novel)and is forced to move in with her miserly, life-hating brother. His hole forces her into her own hole inside his hole (er, house). Partly out of fear ...more
Sep 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely painful to read. There is simply too much truth in in for me to take in at one time. I had to put it down for days at a time while i digested and processed my feelings. Alongside Sunlight Dialogues and Grendal it is one of the most amazing and affecting novels I have ever read. The metadrama is absolutley central to the story. It stands alone as fiction and gives us a searing look into the subconscious of the two protagonists. Gardner is a literary genius, so completely ...more
Matt Holloway
May 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The opening scene justifies every book I've ever read.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I am trying to read through all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize. Despite their literary acclaim, some of these leave me less than wowed. October Light is a story within a story, one of which worked for me and one did not. James and Sally, elderly widowed siblings, have recently moved in together in their childhood farmhouse. An argument over lifestyles, in particular the presence of the television, results in Sally locked in her bedroom and James threatening her with a shotgun. The secondary s ...more
Jul 10, 2009 added it
Shelves: fiction-novel
From the start this is clearly the novel of a man actively striving after masterpieces. Each word is so perfectly chosen, it's unbelievable, and despite its length, the writing is so full of integrity that the reader can't possibly question or wonder if this could have been anything shorter than a 440 page book.

But it's a daunting read, like Paradise Lost was, and like most college classes are in the sense that the author assumes you are going to devote your whole being to participating in this
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
A re-read. great to have this book back in print.
Gardner is ridiculously under-appreciated.
Cynthia Frazer
Was absolutely struck by this novel in my youth, rereading it now I am struck again.
Meghan Wyrd
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-fire
this book was a challenge. I will admit I certainly started skimming paragraphs along the way. the "book within the book" was interesting until it jumped the shark and I completely lost interest in its story whatsoever. it was a clever trick... although I didn't understand the point of the missing pages.. other than perhaps the author was just as sick of that tale as I was and this was a way to skip ahead.!

however the tale of James and sally is deeply personal. the insightfulness., stubborness,
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As the novel opens, 72 year old James Page has just shot his sister's television. Sally Abbot, his penniless widowed sister, has returned home to the Vermont farmhouse in which she and James grew up. The two are polar opposites in nearly every way and beome engaged in a bitter battle of idealogy. James locks Sally in her bedroom, where she begins to read a trashy novel about drug smugglers, spaceships, and philosophy. This novel within the novel is a springboard to provide glimpses into the fami ...more
Aug 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Usually I would rate a book I was unable to finish with 1 star but I am making an exception in this case. It is obviously a well written book with enough themes to keep a high school english class or intellectual book club busy arguing and analyzing for weeks. The two elderly, stubbborn, Vermont siblings represent exteme opposites in terms of political and social viewpoints and there are many supporting cast members to represent the range in between. Like most good stories - there is a dysfuncti ...more
Stephen Weinberger
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I first read Gardner's "Grendel" in high school soon after finishing Beowulf. It was a dark, grotesque, strange, enthralling book that still lingers and causes a mental spasm when I see the cover on my bookshelf. Years later I found Nickel Mountain with its cast of doomed but humane characters in the Catskills of NY. Now, I was able to pick up October Light. Once again, I am struck by his ability to depict flawed but compassionate people (in Vermont this time) while capturing a natural landscape ...more
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this book so many years ago. I do not even barely remember it. I just remember I was obsessed with it and could not put it down. It has two stories throughout. A story within a story. That got in my way when I first started reading it. So I put it down. But, like so many books, I picked it up again and for some reason sailed right though it. It was gorgeously written. John Gardner was a phenomenal writer. I highly recommend this book. One of my absolute all-time favorites.
Jenny D
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It may just be because I'm a Vermonter, but I loved every second of this book. I know those people; I know stubborn old farmers and stubborn old women that say jeezem'crow all the time. I was a fan of John Gardner before, but after reading this I was in the clouds in love with his writing. Such precision, imagery and insight into humanity!
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very entertaining, well crafted novel. The main story is the conflict between a brother and sister. The sister, Sally, is 82 years old. Sally with no income and little savings has been forced to live with her brother. Sally had been a dentist and then ran a financially unsuccessful antique business. Her husband died about 20 years ago. She has no children. The brother, James, is 73. James inherited the dairy farm and house in Vermont from his father. James wife died many years ago and his two ...more
David Miller
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another find from my friendly neighborhood Goodwill store... otherwise I would never have read it... and this is a Great American Novel. Reading this was like reading "The Reivers" or "The House of Seven Gables".

The part of the book that takes place in the present only covers a few days. An old man and his sister are quarreling. The sense of place (the country outside Bennington, Vermont) and the dialogue are perfect. Alongside the usual novelistic themes (the presence of the past, impossibilit
Christian Schwoerke
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book in the 70’s and I enjoyed it again this time around, in April 2014. This time I better appreciated the story of James Sage and gave a little less weight to the embedded “trashy” novel. Formerly, I’d reversed those valuations, though even in my callow 20s I recognized how extraordinary were Gardner’s evocations of 72-year-old James Page and 80-year-old Sally Page. In fact, all of the “real” characters in the novel had fairly rich interior lives that were revelatory and credibl ...more
Mar 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read October Light back in 1977 or thereabouts, shortly after its release. I recalled the very basics of the plot, and that I loved it. That's about it. So reading it again some 36 years later is like reading it anew, experiencing and enjoying it all over again. Ah, the beauty of poor long-term memory.

October Light is the sort of character-driven, philosophical and deeply moralistic tale so typical of the best of Gardner's work. And while there is always a redemptive element, there is so
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it
I had some trouble getting into this one, but once I did it was quite profound. The writing was excellent and it had some deep and important themes. To me it was about the struggle with change and the need to be tolerant, understanding, and forgiving of others. This theme was apparent in the story, but I think was also indicative of a deeper need for this in our society. I felt at times like this book was very deep and I was missing the point, but it was clear the author was making fun of some o ...more
Wendy Joyce
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Ever read a book that started you wondering, "Why the heck am I reading this?" and yet, you keep reading it, page after page, not really liking it, but not knowing why, and not able to stop?

I suppose I was waiting for the story to "get" somewhere...somewhere, anywhere, just get there soon. The characters, well-drawn, (as always with Gardner), come to life, but not in a likeable way. They're more like your aunts, uncles, and cousins that cause migraines when they visit. (You love them, but don't
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
That Gardner was brilliant and actually practiced what he really preached was not a surprise to me as a BIG fan of his books on writing. What amazed me, besides the quality of his metaphors, his scheme, was the joy and fun I had in reading it, and I think he had in writing it. A book of living people, so much that after I got off the bus having just finished it, I expected to see James Page. Gardner gives and gives with all he has. Read it. As customary as it is to add some small slap after such ...more
Chris Minnick
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This may not be as memorable as Grendel, and it may suffer from typical Gardner sermonizing and philosophical monologues, but man, does this novel pack some emotional punches along the way to its powerful conclusion.

If this is your first Gardner book, you may want to put it down when the novel-within-a-novel bits get too ridiculous, or when the characters in the main narrative behave exaggeratedly. I beg you don't. The final third of the story of James and Sally Page's dispute is just fantastic
M.E. Johnson
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nbcca, favorites
WOW! Favorite read this year so far! Didn't expect to get what I got out of this book. A tale about two battling octogenarian siblings who share a house...his to be exact. He locks her in an upstairs room for days, whereupon she finds an exploitative novel (half of the pages ripped out) that she sets out to read. A novel within a novel manifests. Hilarious and surprisingly provocative. This was the first John Gardner novel I have read, and trust me when I say I am looking forward to reading many ...more
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: looking for a new classic/
Recommended to Debbie by: dan from torah study
aClassic by John Gardner who I never read, and was killed when the head of our writing dept at SUNY binghamton
Two elderly siblings are forced to live together for economical reasons. The brother is old fashioned and close minded . the first thing that happens is he shoots the tv because of the liberal ideas its spewing.Then he chases her up the stairs with a weapon and locks her in. She decides she won't come out.Their stalemate is the story. The book seems dated, yet ahead of its time. Another
Jul 25, 2012 added it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I normally like odd, book-within-a-book novels. This one is set in New England with characters who seem very familiar. I just could not get into it. I think, for me, the actual characters weren't close enough, and the characters in the novel were not compelling or immediate enough. Too much distance between me and the characters to generate any kind of connection. I tried...
Kristina Cinato
Aug 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
The author does an exceptional job of developing characters and invoking sympathy for them when they should be unlikeable. Even more, he is able to get the reader to understand, if not sympathize with, BOTH philosophically juxtaposed main characters. The story is slow, but so well crafted and beautifully scripted that it is worth the time.
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
As a longtime fan of Gardner's work, I had not gotten around to reading this one. I can't believe it won a National Book Award. I gave it two stars because the writing was lovely in fits and starts and the characters were well drawn. Beyond that, I found the book tedious and had a very hard time finishing it. Probably wouldn't have but for book club.
Jean Kelly
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this book again after many years and found it a fascinating tale of two old siblings having a battle royal interspersed with a 'trash' novel' Sally finds and reads while she is a 'prisoner' in her bedroom.
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John Champlin Gardner was a well-known and controversial American novelist and university professor, best known for his novel Grendel, a retelling of the Beowulf myth.

Gardner was born in Batavia, New York. His father was a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and his mother taught English at a local school. Both parents were fond of Shakespeare and often recited literature together. As a child, Gardner
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