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The Origin of Species

3.06  ·  Rating details ·  693 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
The crater held a circle of stars above them as if they were closed up in a snow globe, a private cosmos. He thought of Darwin sleeping out on the pampas during his Beagle trip, a middle-class white kid traveling the world, the first of the backpackers. It was only afterwards, really, that he had made any sense of what he had seen. Alex wondered what, in the fullness of ti ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published March 30th 2009 by Anchor Canada
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Nov 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not an easy read and at 472 pages, it isn't a quick read either. The author examines Darwin's theory of evolution and considers how it is evidenced in the complex life history of his protagonist, Alex Fratarcangeli, and the various characters that enter and leave his world. The story is set in the mid 80's, and takes us from Montreal to the Galapagos, to Sweden, to small town Leamington - the hometown of the main character, and of the author. The descriptions of setting sometimes became ...more
Jun 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
Long. Mildly interesting and I'm surprised I finished it.

Could not relate to the characters. I don't enjoy books where I can't relate or understand where the characters are coming from and I definitely could not understand this one.

The main character, Alex, is probably best summed up by one of the other characters in the book, Maria - one of Alex's long-shot love interests - when she tells him that he isn't a real man (or something like that) because he can't decide what he wants and act on it.
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book. I feel like I missed some of its deeper points, I couldn't warm up to the main character at all. At almost 500 pages I am happy I finished it. What a slog.
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well I finished it but nearly didn’t. Although well-written, it is much, much too long for a novel about a year in the life of a young man (Alex) with a bad case of neurotic introspection and a life that holds little interest for himself, let alone the reader. Too long, that is, even without the social commentary.

It starts out well enough when he meets Esther, a woman with MS and an attitude who may be the one to jolt Alex out of himself, but by chapter 2 we are sidetracked into the minutiae of
Zara Garcia-Alvarez of The Bibliotaphe Closet Blog
Nino Ricci's "The Origin of Species" novel is one I suggest you read twice---not because it's a spectacular book, but because it's one you'll want to contemplate and reconsider especially in its details.

The main character, Alex Fratarcangeli, is as long-winded and complicated as his name. Or maybe not so much long-winded, since with others, he seems so willing to say so very little in fear of revealing too much of himself. And yet, his internal discourse runs about 10 miles a minute that is fier
May 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book that I couldn't put down. The book is an incredible journey through the life of one man as he tries to find a strain of reason or meaning to his existence and experiences.
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insanely good. Amazing read. You forget that you're reading as you lose yourself in the prose.
Steven Langdon
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This sprawling, remarkable novel is on one level a map of the varied moments of the quite confused life of Alex, a not-so-young doctoral student in Montreal. On another level, it is a parable of the interplay of fate, of chance and of adaptation, reflecting the central insights of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. There is no plan, Alex sees Darwin deciding, above all, as he traces the intricate variations that mark out the evolution of plants and animals; there is simply what turns out, f ...more
Twenty-six-year old grad student, Alex, is going through a tough time. After two years he’s still struggling to nail down his dissertation theme and deal with unresolved relationship issues. He’s sought a thesis supervisor and a therapist for his personal problems, but neither man is that helpful. Afraid that his life will be a total failure, Alex flounders in his attempts to turn things around.

I had high expectations for this book. After all, it’s a Governor General’s award winner written by a
Memorable Reading
Jun 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was really moved by one of Nino Ricci's short stories and on that recommendation alone, I sought out his longer work. This is the first novel by Ricci that I've read and for the most part, I wasn't disappointed. I would recommend this novel, especially to someone who is doing postgraduate studies and especially if you are a Canadian living in one of the bigger cities (e.g., Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) with a multicultural population.

Ricci's style is very unassuming - he's descriptive enough
Mary Curran
Read this as an ebook, and knew that it was long but did not realize the immensity of the novel until after reading various reviews. Extremely well-written, Ricci is definitely GG material although I am a little surprised that he won one for The a Origin of Species. Loved him speaking about an era (80s) in my recent memory and during which I was partially in a similar headspace as Alex. The novel is compartmentalized, as are most of our lives. I preferred the compartments dealing with Esther, hi ...more
May 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are looking for a suspenseful plot, or a story of personal redemption and salvation, you will not find satisfaction with this book. However, if you appreciate maturity and confidence in writing style, with a touch of Canadian history, and a cast of interesting characters, you should enjoy this book. Usually I get turned off by main characters who occupy the book with continuing selfish angst (eg Eat, Love, Pray) but the main character of this book, who is going through a period of anguish ...more
Paula Dembeck
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in Montreal in the 1980s. The story of Alex, thirtyish who is plagued by a gnawing sense of being a fraud in all aspects of his life, from his personal ambitions to his professional work – his Phd where he is trying to connect Darwin’s theories to some greater theory of life. He makes a trip to the Galapagos Islands and meets a girl named Esther. There is also his work at the Berlitz School where he meets Felix a gay Anglophone from Outrement and Miguel and his sister Maria from San Salvador ...more
Apr 23, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, but it went on way too long for me. Towards the end I was barely registering what was happening anymore, just wanted to find out what happened to the main characters. There were also a lot of minor characters that I found difficult to keep track of...a name would show up partway through and I've have no idea where I'd heard it before.

The significance of the whole Galapagos incident was somewhat lost on didn't seem like it should have been as
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
A book highly recommended to me by my boyfriend. It had a giant sticker on it for the Governor General Award and all kinds of praise and acclaim for Mr. Ricci. Maybe it all went over my head, because I just can't understand how so many people could have been "moved" by 500 pages of nothing.

This was one the slowest, most boring books I have ever read. I couldn't relate to the main character at all; he just whined and wallowed the entire novel - except for his random adventure on the Galapagos Isl
Jay Delorenzis
I've reread the beginning a few times. I have a habit of going to another book before I finish the one I am involved in. I am now picking up where I left off. So far, so good. By the time I finished two-thirds of this book, I just wanted to end it and move on. So, I simply jumped to the last chapter and found the end to just end. The first part of this book was good and looked like it could develop into something interesting, but it was like the author ran out of story and decided to drag it out ...more
Luis Gurley
I personally did not like it much, it was entertaining at times, but I find it with lack of momentum. It gets tedious, with some splashes of brightness. I would not recommend it as a great book (well at least from my perspective).
I have read the biography this author made of Pierre Trudeau, it was an amazing work. I still have to give another try, with one of his most renowned work "Lives of the saints". But cannot say this boo was a great read.
Jerry Levy
Interesting premise about a self-absorbed grad student trying to finish his PhD, living in Montreal during the turbulent 1980's. A terrible sense of ennui seems to hang over him and he basically seems to have given up. He reminded me a little of Mersaud in Camus' L'etranger. The novel is mostly set in Montreal but then Alex takes off to the Galapagos Islands, where he has a most harrowing adventure with a despicable man Desmond; you'll cringe at parts of that. Lots of minor characters that sift ...more
Ben Babcock
Far too long for its own good, The Origin of Species seems to have one goal: destroy any last shred of sympathy the reader might have for the protagonist, Alex Fratarcangeli.

Part of my trouble with this book is a defect of self. I'm too young to have lived through the 1980s, and I've never been to Montreal. Thus, it's difficult for me to comprehend Alex's preoccupation with Pierre Trudeau, Bill 101, and tension among immigrant populations. Someone more attuned to the zeitgeist of 1980s Canada or
Steven Teasdale
The Origin of Species captured the 2008 Governor Generals Literary Award for fiction (the second such win for Ricci, the first being his 1993 debut Lives of the Saints). It was a well-deserved honour. This dense, multi-faceted, sprawling, and thought-provoking tome explores the ideas of evolution, love, ruthlessness, human nature, relationships, nature, fatherhood, higher education, and postmodernism, among many others, in a provocative, humorous, and often moving fashion.

The primary story conce
Karen Bannister
I wanted to enjoy this book. With all its references to literary theory (just completed a Masters in Comp Lit) and the main character's existential angst it seemed right up my alley. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it.

I found the first part of the novel very interesting. We meet Alex and are immersed in his world; there is careful attention paid to many details of his life. I liked Alex. I enjoyed the middle of the novel too and the obvious connection with Darwin's theories. But the end lost me.
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I will not finish this book...too long. The August selection for my book club proved to be mildly interesting during the first part; however, there were far too many references to cultural events and people of the Montreal 80's that it would be dificult for someone younger or from elsewhere to understand or appreciate. I have abandoned this book at the halfway point in the Galapagos. I simply don't care anymore about Alex. It's been too hot a summer for such a heavy read and it dosen't go well w ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I would have recommended The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci but I finished it and found it disappointing. The first chapter sets the story up to be interesting as it introduces the protagonist, a McGill PhD candidate, Alex, who meets a women, Esther, with MS. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the book is a litany of his (failed) relationships followed by an ill fated adventure to the Galapagos Islands where he accompanies a disneyish villain, Desmond, on an odd (and unbelievable) mission. ...more
Andrea Paterson
I've given up on this book. I don't think it's bad. In fact, it may be a wonderful book but it just wasn't speaking to me. It's one of those books that doesn't have anything particularly wrong with it but just can't hold my attention for any length of time. I wasn't drawn to the characters and I found that there were too many of them floating in and out of the narrative for me to attach to any of them. I've noticed that I've completely stalled on my reading because this book has been sitting aro ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Wow, nominated for the GG award, eh?. Must have been a SLOW year in literature. I was excited to read this book until about page 60. Then I thought "Oh I hope Alex isn't some wimpy man-child narcissist. Well, guess what? He was.

Some of the writing was lovely and I slogged through this wanting to know the ending. Would he end up living in Sweden? Would Esther be ok? Guess what? These questions were never answered. It was a tome about a self indulgent loser who can't stick to one thing and uses e
Scott Harris
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Ricci had taken home the Governor General's Award for this particular piece, I was a bit daunted to see the tome before me and wondered if it would be inevitably precocious. The story has a compulsive evolution right from the very beginning as though random selection is at play even in the very moments of Alex's life. Brief, promisingly hollow encounters create whole new tracks and the reader is left wondering just exactly what will emerge. Ricci is a masterful writer and creates a comp ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This auhor was first recommended to me back in highschool, I think in my English OAC. I think I might be glad it took me all this time to get around to reading it, since I think the experience of some bad travelling and having children and some bad relationships might have helped me better understand it.

It's a really good book. Sad and melancholy in a very Canadian way. I wish the storyline with Felix had been wrapped up as well as the others, but overall I thought the ending was well done.
The more you have experienced Canadian / Anglo/Franco politics, the more you will appreciate this book. I loved that the characters' names are in reference to Quebec nationalists (Felix et his journalist friend as examples). The descriptions are so vivid, I could picture every street, every step Alex took in Montreal.

I used to see this book in the hands of almost every passenger on VIA Rail trains. Now I completely understand why.
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
He had me...and..then he didn't...and then he had me again...and then he didn't. Annoying prozaic at times but some really interesting biological diversity and natural selection intertwined with literature narratives. Could have been a lot more but lacked some focus. Broken academic struggling with the imposter syndrome was a great focus for character development but lacked substance in places...Still worth a read. Not as good as the Beagle-man himself...
Apr 11, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I was generous to this book; reading chapter after chapter thinking it would pick up. I'm over half way though now and so bored of dreary, self-absorbed and ineffectual Alex. The side characters are more interesting but they drift in and out of Alex's life and thus the story.

I think the real problems is that Alex doesn't care about anyone - not even himself - and so in the end I don't either.

One star because I couldn't finish it.
Sue Williams
This was painful to read.... hated the main character, weak and lazy, the story line never improved and the self pity just oozed out. Do not recommend.

Merged review:

Really had trouble with this book, wanted to like it, but struggled through the end. Totally disliked the main character, too morose and introspective to like.
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Way too long & drawn out. Didn't see Alex's character progress beyond his narcissistic self. I did like the historical and geographic research that created context for the locations. Overall, well written and I always enjoy the biographical references to the author (Leamington) but couldn't finish it bc the characters were wearing very thin on my patience.
Blair Conrad
At times, very good. I didn't care for the main character, but he felt like a person (and in a few small parts, a little too close to home for comfort, if I'm being brutally honest). Generally well-written and readable. I found the Galapagos portion dragged. With a little tightening, would be 5* for me.
Nick Scott
one of these books that I remembered reading and have generally forgot about reading. definitely swayed by others reviews which I used to jog my memory but it was a tough read. not necessarily engaging but a good read that required some endurance and drive to finish the last 20%
Lisa Poeltl
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've ever read. I thought deeply throughout. It was a great combination of an excellent read which keeps you coming back for more, and a book laden with subtext. I was deeply moved at the end.
Linda Tuplin
A young man lost, trying to find his way in life. This book had its moments, but overall it felt rather tedious.
Jojo Cho
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took a while to finish. Part III was the best. Always like Ricci's work.
Jul 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure initially that I was going to like the main character in the book. I had to read for a while to accept the humour of the main character - he's funny in part because he is a jerk but also sympathetic as a conflicted and unsure human being. I enjoyed the settings in Toronto and in Quebec and the insights into Quebec politics which I will likely never understand.
To be fair, I hope some of this went over my head and that's why I didn't appreciate it nearly as much as the back cover critics. Also, it's a little too close to real life; it feels like this guy could live next door... and maybe he does? It's set in Montreal after all; this book is uber Canadian. Some people might find that's part of the charm, I just find it boring.
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-lit
This book grabbed me from page one, and I couldn't put it down. It's not an easy read: the narrative structure isn't straightforward and it leaves questions unanswered. If I were still an English student I'd have lots to say about how those facts intertwine with the themes. As it is, I'll just say it was well worth the effort. And it's by a Canadian to boot.
Jun 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great novel with lots of homesicknessinducing Canadian content to boot. About the evolution of Alex, a grad student in English in the 1980s. It's funny, sad, and optimistic without being the least bit saccharine. It won the Governor General's prize for fiction in Canada in 2008, and deserves to be read and appreciated by more than just Canadians. So read it.
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's a good book, but a little too long for my taste. Every page is not only packed with plot, but also metaphors and symbolism. Sometimes it spells out the latter, for those too busy to dissect it. The only problem is that there are so many details-secondary characters, small events, etc. This makes the book more vivid, but sometimes more tedious.
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, award-winner, 2014
By and large, this was a painful read. Every now and then I'd get to a section that was interesting and enjoyable and I got into the story again, but before long it would take a drastic change of course or get bogged down in the academics and it became a tough slog. I can't recall the last time I took this long to finish a book.
May 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fraught story of Alex, whose problem with emotional commitment leaves him dangling just outside any number of relationships. Set (mostly) in Montreal in the 1980s but touches on a variety of political and cultural issues. You will not soon forget the harrowing episode of Alex's journey through the Galapagos Islands.
Jan 08, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: assigned-books
I would not have read this book if it wasn't required for school. It didn't need to be 600 pages long. Alex is a truly unlikable character, and while his adventure in the Galapagos and his rumination on the life of Darwin is interesting, the details of his love life are drawn out and exhaustingly uninteresting.
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Nino Ricci’s first novel was the internationally acclaimed Lives of the Saints. It spent 75 weeks on the Globe and Mail‘s bestseller list and was the winner of the F.G. Bressani Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. In England it won Betty Trask Award and Winnifred Holtby Prize, in the U.S. was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenba ...more
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