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The Last Gentleman

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,220 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Will Barrett is a 25-year-old wanderer from the South living in New York City, detached from his roots and with no plans for the future—until the purchase of a telescope sets off a romance and changes his life forever.

Publisher: Spring Arbor/Ingram.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 4th 1999 by Picador USA (first published 1966)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,220 ratings  ·  159 reviews

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Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am a Percy addict, I admit it, and a vein full of this didn't help. Percy's novels are like non-fiction disguised as fiction, which I think throws a lot of people. He has ideas, and fiction is a vehicle for them. But just like with O'Connor, you can read his books without having a clue about the author's ideas and still love them for the literature they are. Percy's turns of phrase alone make his stuff worth reading. And boy, did this one get me. Starts out like a quaint, good-ish book, perfec ...more
Ade Bailey
Mar 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I ended my review of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree by adding almost as an afterthought that it is very funny. I’ll start this on Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman by saying it too is very funny. It’s slapstick and absurdist at times, satirical, iconoclastic, wickedly spurting out stereotypes, and if you like your humour refined it’s got that subtle taste of a Socratic Kierkegaard at glee. I’m only an Englishman eavesdropping on this tale of Southern gentility so for better or worse a lot has passed ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who scrape the burnt bits off toast
Shelves: fiction, own

Will Barrett is a slacker. A Princeton drop-out from a genteel Alabama family, unable to attend to his studies, or his life really, because he has amnesiac spells, he moves to New York City where he gets a room at the YMCA and a job as "humidification engineer" at Macy's - basically a janitor working in the basement. It's the Eisenhower era. He spends $1,900 on a fancy telescope (that's about $966,000 in today's dollars) to watch a peregrine in Central Park, but ends up training it on two succes
David Lentz
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Walker Percy is one of the great novelists of the South and is at his best when he describes quotidian life there. The protagonist, whom Percy shapes as an engineer, is the personification of the Deep South. The engineer is a Princeton man with a high-powered telescope living in New York City with episodes of amnesia or "fugues," which disorient him. This poor man takes a job caring for a desperately sick young man named Jamie and falls in love with his sister, Kitty. Jamie is receiving treatmen ...more
Kirk Smith
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Whether it be Brooklyn or Birmingham I seldom appreciate accounts of banal domesticity, neurosis laden diaries. I have really made poor choices lately. ** I am however a huge fan of Walker Percy, and though I disliked this, I realize that description might fit 50% of his work. ***This was the one that completes my list of every novel he has written. I'm aware The Moviegoer should be one I object to, but I love it. My ultimate WP favorite is The Thanatos Syndrome. (Oh, correction: I just noted th ...more
Mar 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
My first Percy but definitely not my last. His words are addictive. Very much interested in how much of the main character is autobiographical, just curious.
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Written in 1966, Percy's second novel following the classic "The Moviegoer." Young, confused Southerner, adrift, suffering 60's-style existential angst, a blank slate whose "radar" lets him know what others want him to be. A vehicle for Percy's ideas on philosophy, theology, the South and more. I suffered existential angst trying to get through it.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I started reading Walker Percy because he's what's known as a Catholic writer, which I suppose means a writer who creates a world where intimations of Christian dogma emerge realistically, and are not just superadded to the plot. The strength and appeal of the novel (as well as his first, The Moviegoer) is its depiction of the protagonist coming upon these intimations in a picaresque plot, full of humor and irony, with nary a hint of didacticism. (view spoiler) ...more
David Withun
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, literature
Sep 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Walker Percy, a much-honored novelist, might be best known in some circles for his noble effort to get the great "Confederacy of Dunces" published after its author, John Kennedy O'Toole, committed suicide. Percy knows great writing when he sees it, and his 1966 novel,"The Last Gentleman," features some great writing.

Like other Percy novels ("The Second Coming" and "The Thanatos Syndrome" come to mind), "The Last Gentleman" is not easy stuff. It features a cast of largely unlikable characters, in
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I'm going to be EXTREMELY generous and give a book I couldn't take past page 108 (where the sex scene in Central Park begins, or maybe failed sex scene, I give no shits) two stars. Why? Because the "engineer" is admittedly a very haunting character in certain respects. Life going nowhere because of neurosis and the inability to actually choose a path in life instead of wallowing in potential? God, the man is writing about me. Kind of. I wish I had a plantation and a check every month, however mo ...more
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
My favorite of Walker Percy's novels. Williston Bibb Barrett, the protagonist, although that is a somewhat inappropriate label for him, wanders through the novel reacting to other people in a highly mannered way, initiating very little, but his very self-effacement presents a tabula rasa for those around him to fill in.

Somewhere in this book I remember seeing the description of manners as existing so that "nobody would ever not know what to do." I have looked for the line and not found it lately
Jun 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book, based in small part on Dostoevsky's The Idiot, is, is, is everything. The final pages will make you tremble or cry, or just appreciate how we kiss and kick around despair.
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an unusual reading experience for me. I slogged through the book and the story never gripped me. I even considered giving it up about 100 pages in. However, I was always conscious of the undeniable skill of the author and wanted to find out how he ended the story. He had something very tangible to say that was developing in a seemingly disconnected, but very unique way. I may come back and write a review after I mull things over, because this is a remarkable book with a powerful ending. ...more
Osvaldo Ortega
Wow! Just finished this wonderful journey of a book. Barrett is a wonderful surreal character living on the edge of his own life. He holds in his soul the confusion and disorientation that comes from living old in a modern world. Incredible. Percy is a master of both dialogue and the stream of consciousness. This last gentleman is a tragic but enviable character.

For those living in the South, or familiar with this strange place facing the Gulf, Percy's references will truly hit home. The author
Justin Lonas
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Just went back through this a third time in prep to lead our book club through it at our next meeting. It just gets better and better with age. All of Percy's work feels more or less prophetic, as humanity has still not fully come to terms with the dislocation of the individualized, technological society birthed by WWII. The "New South", the old South, the sexual revolution, cultural Christianity, and so much more comes under his withering eye.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
Read the whole thing for the reward of the last 20 pages --a true and honest depiction of the moments just prior to death after a prolonged illness. What will you do with your life? What will you do with your death? There's a lot to think on here: memory, identity, recognizing who we are and our place in the world, home and not-home. Challenging, but worthwhile.
Aug 01, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, so, this was not good. The first 120 pages or so were merely kind of bad - rich boy with a plantation in decline (1950s though, what?) goes to Princeton because it's his hereditary birthright and then gets a job monitoring the temperature in a Macy's in NYC, because why not. He goes to therapy, buys a telescope, stalks some girls in Central Park, follows one to a hospital and then instantly recognizes the exact Alabama location of a man's accent.

He and the girl, Kitty, hit it off, but her
Simon Robs
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Walker Percy's second novel also picaresque Southern gentleman's look at the world going on around him as he tries to fit in while making sense. It's a straight telling with stable plot points well limned but always from the unreliable narrator Will Barret who with bouts of deja vus and/or fugues where amnesia leaves holes to memory yet takes us through a series of events beginning in New York city parks on into the deep south in or about the mid-to late sixties or so frame. There is an interest ...more
Sep 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
I am giving this book one star because I did not like it. The beginning was ok... It concerns a young man transplanted from the South living in a YMCA apartment working the night shift in a basement. Perfect - young man stuck in the labrynth. This I can work with. But then he meets some other characters and goes on a road trip down South and the whole book falls apart. It's the South with a capital S - Walker Percy is one of those southern authors you read in college - so of course he tries to m ...more
Sara Stetz
Couldn't do it! I get reeled in by awards and accolades. Should I rate it? I don't know if that's fair since I didn't finish. I'm just glad I was strong enough to walk away! Not usually a quitter, but it was the right decision in this case!
Phillip Stephens
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I downloaded The Last Gentleman on iBooks having confused it in memory with Walker Percy’s sequel, The Second Coming. I read both thirty years in reverse order before soon after I married but forgot that detail. It took about 250 pages for me to realize my mistake. I remember being fond of both, but of one far more. It turns out, I preferred The Second Coming,.

The Last Gentleman is the book the sequel dreamed of becoming, which is why, I suspect, Percy felt compelled to return to familiar ground
Richard Thompson
Walker Percy brings out the Southerner in me. I feel a visceral connection to his characters who are caught between the old and new South, despising the stupidity and evil of the old South but still deeply a part of the old South culture, wanting to see it replaced by something better, but finding the new South to be way less on many levels than a thinker and a dreamer like Walker Percy (and myself in my better moments) would wish.

Will Barrett starts this story as a classic fish out of water Sou
May 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
I really enjoyed this book. It was strange; the author made some interesting choices, like calling his narrator "the engineer" all the time, instead of by his name. This was odd, because all the characters called him by his name, but for the first part of the book he doesn't interact with anyone, so you don't learn his name until 50 pages in or so. Odd. (p.s. the narrator shared my surname.) There's a ton of philosophy in here, no surprise from Percy, and overall the story is mostly compelling a ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book had a good begining, and at first reminded me a little of Ellison's Invisible Man in reverse (an amnesiac Southern White trying to come to terms with the South). Soon, however, the book becomes entangled in the happenings of a strange southern family, and all coherence stops. Characters say one things, then turn around and say the opposite; they continualy talk about having adventures, but nothing ever comes of it. The pace of the novel begins to feel a lot like a traffic jam: false st ...more
Josh Sieders
Sep 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I've enjoyed Walker Percy before, although I confess I do find him elusive. It's often hard to figure out where he's going or what he's getting at. Then, every once in a while, he hits you with a paragraph of pure gold, commenting on life, culture, history, the south, morality, or whatever it is he was chasing at that moment.

The Last Gentleman was the hardest read for me. It had the "contemporary malaise" that I've learned is the theme of his unofficial trilogy (Moviegoer and Love in the Ruins)
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: northerners in the south or southerners in the north
An Alabaman with a telescope and nervous fits is taken in by a rich, faltering Southern family. Reading it made me feel like a better, more wholesome person; like I should sit down with a glass of milk and eat whatever kind of homemade sandwiches Southerners favor. It's a very warm novel. I liked it against my will. I think it's a good 100 pages too long, maybe. Percy takes his time when he has something to say, but at the same time it's weirdly quick and not boring.

The silence was disjunct. It
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
The Last Gentleman is difficult to review and I kind of think that I should reread it to really get a grasp of many of the ideas presented within. The book follows a young man who somewhat lacks an identity and constantly suffers from bouts of amnesia. Through him the author explores themes of identity, society, and religion. The book often feels as aimless as its protagonist and can be somewhat difficult to follow but about halfway through I thought it became easier to follow (or perhaps I beca ...more
Lance Kinzer
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I liked this book the first time I read it ten years ago, but it stuck me much more profoundly upon this recent re-reading. Percy tackles many issues in this book, all of which ultimately relate to how meaning and thus life itself can be possible in a demystified and inverted modern world. There is a fair amount of farce in The Last Gentleman, but it is farce in service of a serious purpose - the exploration of the absurdity of so much that is taken for granted. The path forward Percy suggests r ...more
Gail Jeidy
Feb 18, 2010 rated it did not like it
This one didn't do it for me. There were some interesting trains of thought and ideas and some lovely description. Interesting that the main character suffers from mental issues and goes into spurts of amnesia and fugue states, but the way this is written is too difficult, cumbersome, annoying for the reader to follow. I did not relate to nor care for any of the characters. Or rather I did not feel emotionally invested in their journeys. The journey of the main character, the engineer, felt rand ...more
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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction t ...more

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