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"Repeat Performance" (O'Farrell)

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  • Wyatt James <grobius@sprynet.com>
    I thought this had been a thread on this forum, but the search feature didn t find it, so it must have been part of something else. Anyway, I dug it out from
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 1, 2003
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      I thought this had been a thread on this forum, but the search
      feature didn't find it, so it must have been part of something else.

      Anyway, I dug it out from my back shelves and reread it. Wonderful
      book -- not as a mystery, which it isn't, but as a novel of suspense
      with supernatural elements. Written in 1942, wartime era, but the US
      wasn't really involved in the war yet, so that doesn't feature in any
      major way. Since it isn't a mystery, I'm not spoiling it by saying
      that it has a Woolrichian plot, involving alcoholism, blackouts, and
      hallucinations. It is also a book of Satanic humor (even though the
      devil doesn't appear in it), in the sense of nasty Olympian gods
      playing around with some poor sucker. The protagonist commits a
      murder at the end of a thoroughly messed-up concatination of self-
      centered events and entanglements, then he 'gets' to relive the past
      year, in fact or in imagination, with foreknowledge of what happened
      and knowing what to do to avoid the pitfalls. But of course they
      happen anyway, even if under different circumstances. There is no
      avoidance of his fate -- he just gets to live it differently, more
      nobly as to his own part (because he tries to avoid all of his own
      sins of over-drinking and over-philandering), but helpless all the
      same. A nice Faustian/Greek tragedy sort of plot with some good
      modern wrinkles.

      Another great thing about this book is the New York setting. I have
      lived here in NY for 30 years, this story takes place 30 years before
      that. Things have changed so much in that time, but oddly enough it
      is still the same city, if you can believe a city has a soul that
      goes beyond physical appearance. The neighborhoods have changed --
      slummy to yuppie and upper-class to commercial -- but are still
      totally recognizable, something I've seen even in my own span here.
      His Greenwich Village is still the same even if you wouldn't know it
      now encountering it for the first time.

      All in all a very nice job and deserves to be remembered and reread.
    • Wyatt James <grobius@sprynet.com>
      I thought this had been a thread on this forum, but the search feature didn t find it, so it must have been part of something else. Anyway, I dug it out from
      Message 2 of 3 , Mar 1, 2003
      • 0 Attachment
        I thought this had been a thread on this forum, but the search
        feature didn't find it, so it must have been part of something else.

        Anyway, I dug it out from my back shelves and reread it. Wonderful
        book -- not as a mystery, which it isn't, but as a novel of suspense
        with supernatural elements. Written in 1942, wartime era, but the US
        wasn't really involved in the war yet, so that doesn't feature in any
        major way. Since it isn't a mystery, I'm not spoiling it by saying
        that it has a Woolrichian plot, involving alcoholism, blackouts, and
        hallucinations. It is also a book of Satanic humor (even though the
        devil doesn't appear in it), in the sense of nasty Olympian gods
        playing around with some poor sucker. The protagonist commits a
        murder at the end of a thoroughly messed-up concatination of self-
        centered events and entanglements, then he 'gets' to relive the past
        year, in fact or in imagination, with foreknowledge of what happened
        and knowing what to do to avoid the pitfalls. But of course they
        happen anyway, even if under different circumstances. There is no
        avoidance of his fate -- he just gets to live it differently, more
        nobly as to his own part (because he tries to avoid all of his own
        sins of over-drinking and over-philandering), but helpless all the
        same. A nice Faustian/Greek tragedy sort of plot with some good
        modern wrinkles.

        Another great thing about this book is the New York setting. I have
        lived here in NY for 30 years, this story takes place 30 years before
        that. Things have changed so much in that time, but oddly enough it
        is still the same city, if you can believe a city has a soul that
        goes beyond physical appearance. The neighborhoods have changed --
        slummy to yuppie and upper-class to commercial -- but are still
        totally recognizable, something I've seen even in my own span here.
        His Greenwich Village is still the same even if you wouldn't know it
        now encountering it for the first time.

        All in all a very nice job and deserves to be remembered and reread.
      • Wyatt James <grobius@sprynet.com>
        Another point to make: As we all know, you don t have to be John Dickson Carr to contrive a beautiful plot, even if it isn t a detective story. The so-called
        Message 3 of 3 , Mar 1, 2003
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          Another point to make: As we all know, you don't have to be John
          Dickson Carr to contrive a beautiful plot, even if it isn't a
          detective story. The so-called clockwork plot has been around in all
          ages and genres, and in many ways is much more intellectually
          satisfying than the 'psychological' plot. Look at the superb
          conclusions of "Oedipus Rex" or "Hamlet" and what led up to them,
          absurd as they are logically. Or read "Tom Jones" or "Bleak House"
          with a notepad at your hand to jot down the interlockings of the plot
          itself, not of the characters.

          In the best stories, the characters fit into the plot, are not thrust
          into it like poor Rosenkranz and Guildenstern, but they still have no
          control over it, because it is being imposed from 'above' by the
          author or gods or whatever -- at the very best these two elements
          combine. [As opposed to some modern fiction where the characters, as
          defined by the author, impose the plot, which means the book
          basically has NO plot, hence no satisfaction for the reader.]

          "Repeat Performance" is particularly brilliant in plotting. There is
          no ostensible deus ex machina like the devil, but you can sense one
          behind the scenes, just as some of the characters in the book, where
          the hero is reliving the past year in an alternative world where the
          same events are going to happen even if under different
          circumstances, sometimes are sensitive enough to know 'something is
          not right' -- sort of a deja-vu premonition. What is brilliant is the
          combination of a Wilkie Collins-type parallel plot (viz. "Armadale")
          vs. the hero's efforts, being the only one clued into both
          situations, to influence events, and reacting with a wonderful sense
          of irony when they come out the same in spite of it.

          This was made into a movie, but I've never seen it. Supposedly pretty
          good.


          --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James <grobius@s...>"
          <grobius@s...> wrote:
          > I thought this had been a thread on this forum, but the search
          > feature didn't find it, so it must have been part of something else.
          >
          > Anyway, I dug it out from my back shelves and reread it. Wonderful
          > book -- not as a mystery, which it isn't, but as a novel of
          suspense
          > with supernatural elements. Written in 1942, wartime era, but the
          US
          > wasn't really involved in the war yet, so that doesn't feature in
          any
          > major way. Since it isn't a mystery, I'm not spoiling it by saying
          > that it has a Woolrichian plot, involving alcoholism, blackouts,
          and
          > hallucinations. It is also a book of Satanic humor (even though the
          > devil doesn't appear in it), in the sense of nasty Olympian gods
          > playing around with some poor sucker. The protagonist commits a
          > murder at the end of a thoroughly messed-up concatination of self-
          > centered events and entanglements, then he 'gets' to relive the
          past
          > year, in fact or in imagination, with foreknowledge of what
          happened
          > and knowing what to do to avoid the pitfalls. But of course they
          > happen anyway, even if under different circumstances. There is no
          > avoidance of his fate -- he just gets to live it differently, more
          > nobly as to his own part (because he tries to avoid all of his own
          > sins of over-drinking and over-philandering), but helpless all the
          > same. A nice Faustian/Greek tragedy sort of plot with some good
          > modern wrinkles.
          >
          > Another great thing about this book is the New York setting. I have
          > lived here in NY for 30 years, this story takes place 30 years
          before
          > that. Things have changed so much in that time, but oddly enough it
          > is still the same city, if you can believe a city has a soul that
          > goes beyond physical appearance. The neighborhoods have changed --
          > slummy to yuppie and upper-class to commercial -- but are still
          > totally recognizable, something I've seen even in my own span here.
          > His Greenwich Village is still the same even if you wouldn't know
          it
          > now encountering it for the first time.
          >
          > All in all a very nice job and deserves to be remembered and reread.
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