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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Leading the Cheers

Justin Cartwright

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To purchase Leading the Cheers

Title: Leading the Cheers
Author: Justin Cartwright
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 256 pages
Availability: Leading the Cheers - US
Leading the Cheers - UK
Leading the Cheers - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : an ambitious, fairly entertaining novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor A 30/9/1999 Ron Charles
New Statesman B- 25/9/1998 Toby Mundy
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 17/10/1999 Valerie Sayers
San Francisco Chronicle . 14/11/1999 John Perry
The Spectator B+ 10/10/1998 Andrew M. Brown
Sunday Times A 23/5/1999 Phil Baker
Sunday Telegraph A 13/9/1999 Anthony Thwaite
The Washington Post B 13/10/1999 Jonathan Yardley

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very positive, though some have a few reservations.

  From the Reviews:
  • "I know this sounds maudlin, but in Cartwright's hands it's touching, witty, and provocative. Behind the story of a reunion among some wounded classmates and moments of ripe satire lies a fascinating meditation about the distorting function of memory." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "The problem is that Cartwright has not really succeeded in creating a plausible inner life for his narrator, Silas, an ethereal presence faded as much as jaded. For a former copywriter he seems unable to turn a memorable phrase. Much of his story is told using a selection of bizarre tenses, the deadpan effect of which is to make him sound as if he is undergoing hypnosis. He is also a master of the dumbfounding non sequitur." - Toby Mundy, New Statesman

  • "Deftly crafting the voice of his narrator, Cartwright explores the poignancy of revisiting the past and the stories we tell ourselves to survive." - John Perry, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "On the whole Cartwright is probably too kindly and well-adjusted to be an effective satirist. An adman himself, he has the advertiser's intuition about things like a `national mood', fashion and style which makes his books immense fun to read, and he writes beautifully." - Andrew M. Brown, The Spectator

  • "It's a book which is itself individual: eloquent, tender, as well as sharply observant and funny." - Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Cartwright is shaping up to be a new master of the "how we live now" novel. If his enjoyable and almost brilliant books have a flaw it is the sheer slickness of the performance." - Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

  • "Cartwright knows America better than many other outsiders who have written about it, but he doesn't know it well enough." - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The hero of Justin Cartwright's novel is Dan Silas, an English adman whose firm was recently purchased by a Japanese company. He was no longer needed, and so he is currently unemployed. Having made enough from the sale of the company he lives fairly comfortably, but his girlfriend of eight years has left him and his life is perhaps a bit empty. Then he receives an invitation to attend his high-school reunion.
       The son of a General Motors manager, Dan went to high school in the United States, Hollybush High in Michigan. The invitation is tempting enough for him to venture back for the first time since then. He finds a bit more than he bargained for.
       There is Gary Beaner, who got a scholarship to Harvard and promptly had a breakdown. He lives back home, in Holland, Michigan with his mother, and is convinced that he is a native American named Pale Eagle.
       There is Gloria, whom Dan bedded on a high school trip to Monticello -- in Thomas Jefferson's bed, no less. Gloria works at a huge Christmas store, an expert in lighting. She had a daughter, Belinda, who was recently murdered by a serial killer, and now she claims that Dan was the father of the child.
       The book is a look back at innocence lost. America itself has been changed, as Dan reflects while watching TV pornography in his hotel room. He keeps thinking back to the Emersonian ideals quoted by a high school teacher, as he himself tries to find his place in the world
       Dan's lunatic friend winds up in the asylum, creating his own reality. The question of his paternity -- and of how exactly Belinda died -- is shown in various lights. And Dan even goes to visit the serial killer in jail (in a somewhat unsettling and not fully rounded scene).
       Cartwright heaps a great deal of material here, including the theft of Indian relics from the British Museum, and the re-burial of the remains of Tecumseh. It is, perhaps, too much material, and Cartwright glides too easily across much of it. Some of the observations are very well done, and the voices of his old high school friends sound authentic, but the action advances too much on the surface. More depth and explanation (or elaboration) is needed here -- it is the rare book that is too short for its own good.
       An entertaining read, it is, finally, also not fully satisfying. Cartwright does a number of things well, but he overextends himself here. A decent (and fairly quick read), there could have been more to this.

       Note -- shoddy editing alert: the American edition unaccountably contains such bizarre misspellings as "Thomas Alvar Edison" and "Garth Brookes". At a later point Edison's name is spelt correctly, so even the proofreader should have caught that discrepancy. What gives ? Does no one look at these books before they are printed ? This is an unacceptable state of affairs, showing the publisher's complete lack of respect for both the author and the audience (who shell out good money for their books).

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Reviews: Justin Cartwright: Other books by Justin Cartwright under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Justin Cartwright was born in South Africa and educated in the United States and England. He has written several novels. In Every Face I Meet was shortlisted for the 1995 Booker Award, and Leading the Cheers won the 1998 Whitbread Award.

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© 1999-2006 the complete review

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