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the complete review - fiction
[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]
general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author
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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:
Haven't ever really taken to DeLillo, and it doesn't look like a book to change our minds
Chances that we will review it:
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No consensus, though the majority seem quite impressed
From the Reviews:
- "Still, it is a real achievement to represent people trying to think what they can’t think, see what they can’t see, and Falling Man has a string of remarkable hits here, and a small run of misses." - Michael Wood, Bookforum
- "Don DeLillo, in his eagerly anticipated novel about Sept. 11, has not only captured the fraught numbness that followed the World Trade Center attacks -- he has written a book that is itself numbing. (…) His fidelity to his source material brings us back to those awful days, but adds little new perspective. In occasionally stunning but frequently affected prose, DeLillo evokes images that are still fresh in our minds. (…) DeLillo's characters are so emotionally remote, it's hard to engage with them. (…) Dialogue is ludicrously disjointed and clipped." - Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor
- "(M)ost of the book is given over to clotted analysis of its characters' equally clotted states of mind. (…) Falling Man is an intermittently wonderful book of small details. (…) Here, again, the parts are often dazzling. But the whole seems less than the sum of those parts." - The Economist
- "It's become something of a literary sport, trying to capture 9/11 in a novel. (…) No one has come as close to piercing its heart as Don DeLillo with Falling Man, his best book since 1997's Underworld, and maybe his warmest ever. (…) So what does DeLillo have to tell us about 9/11 ? Nothing. And everything." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainement Weekly
- "Falling Man ist ein Buch, das immer wieder auseinanderzudriften droht; nie erweckt es den Eindruck, es habe die Sache im Griff; es wirkt verhalten, es kommt ohne jene wunderbaren Welterklärungsätze aus, die sonst in DeLillos Prosa wie Blitze aufleuchten. Und es ist zugleich voller Sätze, die einen unwiderstehlichen Sound haben, die man laut lesen muss, obwohl ein Roman kein Text zum Rezitieren ist. Es ist die Sprache, die alles zusammenhält" - Peter Körte, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
- "Falling Man is ambitious in scope but not in scale. It is scrupulously domestic, relentlessly downbeat. If a scene can be shown in retrospect, it is; if it can have the dramatic stuffing knocked out of it in advance, all the better." - Toby Litt, The Guardian
- "Falling Man is an excavation deep into the heart of a world in which only fanatics and terrorists, with calm certainty, claim to grasp the sense of things. (…) In this masterly novel, there is no redeeming clarity, only the attenuated dust of the collapsed towers." - Eric Homberger, The Independent
- "It's hard to describe quite how tiresomely issues-and-themes the majority of this novel is. (…) Even the most indiscriminate collector of resonant DeLillan conceits will have misgivings about this one. (…) Then there's the dialogue. At some point since Underworld, and indeed for large stretches of that, DeLillo's characters started to speak like characters in a Don DeLillo novel, ie like no one else on earth. The effect is carried to extremes here, with almost every character disgorging stale profundities in what sounds like a comedy Mitteleuropean accent. (…) Falling Man is a mean, cramped, irresolute novel." - Tim Martin, Independent on Sunday
- "Falling Man's core plot is very simple: Lianne hopes she and Keith can be a family again, and initially that seems possible; but gradually he drifts away from her, first magnetised by Florence and then -- deserting her too -- by gambling. Yet the plethora of secondary storylines makes it a fragmented and sometimes bewildering experience. Whether DeLillo is writing about poker, or Alzheimer's sufferers, or Nina's paintings or Justin's friends, the individual sections are vivid enough; but they seem to be pieces from different jigsaws. (…) (A) frustratingly disjointed novel." - John Dugdale, Literary Review
- "DeLillo has always worked with themed characters, often obsessive types who take in the world from an oblique angle, whose actions are a way of putting into play their deepest preoccupations. Here, in lieu of narrative developments, we go from vignette to vignette, character to character, tuning in to what feels like a tone-row exploration of the psyche in extremis." - Sven Birkerts, The Los Angeles Times
- "Obviously, we can read DeLillo backward, as if his detective novels, science fictions, road shows, espionage thrillers, academic hanky-pankies and hockey porn were warming up for Falling Man -- a novel that reminds us of how we really felt before we were bushwhacked; of our fugue state on that election day, in the endless nightmare feedback loop of jet plane, firebomb, towers falling, another in a long line of cheesy Hollywood films in which the crystal palace of Manhattan is destroyed by comets, plagues, apes, aliens, insects, androids, hydrogen bombs, tidal waves or toxic waste. (…) From dense light and mauled stones, DeLillo, a closet holy roller, writes a radiant sermon." - John Leonard, The Nation
- "This highly formal, and quickly formalized, still life is sometimes affecting; more often it is mildly suggestive, with the reader feeling that a lot of white space on the page is glaring at him beseechingly. (...) It seems to drift in a stunned, meaningless void where sentences (...) are given rather too much credence. (...) (A) book that is all limbs -- many articulations and joints, an artful map of connections, but finally no living, pulsing center." - James Wood, The New Republic
- "Throughout the book, bombs of laconic irony explode when least expected (…..) In such a context, DeLillo's idiosyncratic method of dialogue acquires even more allusive and slyly destabilising force. (.) And yet, there still seems something self-questioning about Falling Man" - Steven Poole, New Statesman
- "The new novel is about falling -- falling through space, through time, through memory, being tugged down or forward or back -- and about how some of us try to slow or speed the motion. (…) (B)eautifully crafted, endlessly quotable" - Adam Begley, The New York Observer
- "DeLillo the novelist prepared us for September 11, but he did not prepare himself for how such an episode might, in the way of denouements, instantly fly beyond the reach of his own powers. In a moment, the reality of the occasion seems to have burst the ripeness of his style, and he truly struggles in this book to say anything that doesn't sound in a small way like a warning that comes too late. Reading Falling Man, one feels that September 11 is an event that is suddenly far ahead of him, far beyond what he knows, and so an air of tentative rehearsal resounds in an empty hall. (…) Of course, a first-rate literary intelligence can eventually meet a world where reality acknowledges the properties of his style by turning them into parody, and in these circumstances, which are DeLillo's with this particular novel, the original novelist may be said to be a person quietened by his own genius. This is another American story -- the story of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles --
and it gives us a clue to the weakness of Falling Man. But the novel itself is packed with clues, the first and most obvious being the author's inability to conjure his usual exciting prose." - Andrew O’Hagan, The New York Review of Books
- "(T)he new book is small-scale and subdued, at times even a bit airless. (...) Mr. DeLillo's aim in Falling Man is almost that of a lyric poet -- not so much to tell a story as to evoke a state of mind. (...) Falling Man does succeed in telling part of the truth about September 11 and its aftermath. But it would be a better novel if Mr. DeLillo weren't so convinced that he's telling the whole truth." - Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun
- "Although flashes of Mr. DeLillo’s extraordinary gifts for language can be found in his depiction of the surreal events Keith witnessed on 9/11 -- passages that remind the reader of the harrowing essay he published in Harper’s Magazine in December 2001 -- the remainder of the novel feels tired and brittle." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
- "There’s a method to the Resnais-like fogginess. The cumulative effect is devastating, as DeLillo in exquisite increments lowers the reader into an inexorable rendezvous with raw terror. (…) Its premise is archetypal almost to a fault." - Frank Rich, The New York Times Book Review
- "It's hard to tell whether this is a story of disintegration or its opposite (…) The feeling of being decentred, peripheral to oneself, is clearly appropriate to a narrative of aftermath, but turns out to be an abiding, almost defining, characteristic of the book. (…) It's an arbitrary, formal decision, to transplant a huge piece of drama on to the end of so studiously anti-climactic a book, whose odd achievement up to this point has been a masterly polyphonic fizzling." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer
- "(O)ne of his best books in years (…..) DeLillo is a master of the prose riff, and there are a few riffs in here as good as anything he's ever produced (…..) For these passages alone, the book is worth reading. The weaknesses of Falling Man are DeLillo's long-standing ones. Most of them spring from the fact that he is an essayist at heart (…..) The characters in Falling Man are typically sketchy and the dialogue improbable; everyone speaks in exactly the same stagy, portentous manner as the mouthpiece characters in an experimental play. (…) But if DeLillo can never quite make these figures register as actual human beings, they are nevertheless the vehicles for some intriguing ideas, as well as the occasion for some gorgeous writing." - Laura Miller, Salon
- "DeLillo's narrative, with one exception, requires one bleak scene after another. However true to life, it makes hard going for the reader. (…) All this is accomplished with a subtle hand. DeLillo's most unusual, and least effective, choice, however, is to take us inside the mind of Hammad, a fictional member of the 9/11 plot." - Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle
- "Falling Man is a serious, beautiful book about 9/11 that would have been a masterpiece if it hadn't been about 9/11. (…) Had it been any other calamity, the novel would have worked sublimely. (…) The psychologies of the American characters are empathetically complex, the prose is, for the most part, poetic and elegant and the dialogue haunting: and then someone gets on a soapbox." - Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
- "There are those who have called DeLillo a cold writer, too detached, too cerebral; I challenge them to read the astonishing and deeply moving closing pages of Falling Man without weeping." - John Burnside, The Scotsman
- "His control is formidable, and some of the set-pieces here are stunning. (…) Almost every critic at some time or another says that a novel is ‘about identity’. But Falling Man really is, explicitly, about identity." - Sam Leith, The Spectator
- "(S)earing, profoundly unsettling" - Stephen Amidon, Sunday Times
- "In his treatment of the politics of the event, DeLillo takes some trouble to balance American shock and indignation with more critical perspectives. In dealing with the latter, he's particularly careful. (…) In Falling Manf he demonstrates, with chilling precision, how the affluence and stability we take for granted in the West is built on the tectonic plates of global power that can shift in a split second." - Anthony Macris, Sydney Morning Herald
- "The novel is a chamber piece, small-scale and intimate (…..) Falling Man is a memorial, an evocation, an unresolved argument with itself, an elegy, and the closest fiction has so far come to catching up with this huge piece of history." - Lewis Jones, The Telegraph
- "I honestly can't criticise anything in Falling Man. It's a thoughtful, crafted work with many sentences that merit applause. (…) However after the carnage of the opening chapters we are very much in WoodyAllenland, a Manhattan of adultery and art-dealers, replete with philosophical dialogue. (…)Falling Man is a novel I wished I liked more, because manifestly a lot of intelligence and graft has gone into it. But as the old reviewing cliché goes, if I hadn't been paid to read this book, I probably would have stopped at around page 40 again. There's a lifeless, soporific quality to DeLillo's writing." - Tibor Fischer, The Telegraph
- "It is a hymn for the New York of 9/11, and its fallen. It is quietly and sparely voiced, without theatrics. No theatrics are needed, or possible; the event is epic enough and requires no embellishing. DeLillo pares everything down, giving a short, shorn, direct, unencumbered and economical account of a vast moment that in the very slenderness and terseness of its telling, captures the horrible power of its impact. (…) This novel is not easy reading for two reasons. One is its potent and disturbing rendition of the events of 9/11 and their effects. The other is that every scene is written so sparely that one has to work to piece together who we are with, what is happening, when and where. It is not friendly reading. But the effort is worth it -- and perhaps necessary." - A.C Grayling, The Times
- "For the novel to function as this sort of seismograph, charting the aftershocks contained in the after-days, it must give us the full realism of the disaster itself (..…) If Don DeLillo's prose is up to the minute, it is also up to the minutiae, of existence (…..) Falling Man is an act of daring empathy, as well as technical brilliance, as it looks to act as imaginative testimony to the experience of 9/11." - Stephen Abell, Times Literary Supplement
- "Falling Man isn't one of DeLillo's best works, despite flashes of the intense, intellectually chilling writing that propelled Underworld, about Cold War paranoia, or Libra, inspired by President Kennedy's assassination. (…) The plot, which often is not DeLillo's strength, ultimately goes nowhere, circling back on itself. What DeLillo offers, better than most non-fiction accounts of 9/11, is a sense of what the unimaginable felt like" - Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
- "So yes, Falling Man is a powerfully written and compulsively creative work. The inconvenient truth: It is not DeLillo's best, and it inadvertently exposes the limitations of the "nonfiction novel" that Mailer and Capote and Wolfe unleashed on the world." - James Ledbetter, The Village Voice
- "Obviously, a writer of fiction is free to have his characters talk in any old way he likes, but if they end up babbling like caricatures, they forfeit all claim on the reader's credulity. If this were satire, it might work, but it isn't. It's the exact opposite: DeLillo is dead serious, solemn to the max. (…) (T)his novel never pulls the reader in, never engages the reader with the minds, hearts and lives of its characters, never manages to be what readers most want from fiction: a story with which they can connect." - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
- "Was diesen neuen Roman nun so atemberaubend macht, ist die Art, wie Erzählerisches und Essayistisches in ein Gleichgewicht gebracht werden, sprachlich knapper, purer noch als in Mao II oder DeLillos großem Atombombe-trifft-Baseball-Roman Underworld. Es ist eine Meditation darüber, was es bedeutet, in diesen Zeiten zu leben und in diesen Räumen, wie es DeLillo etwas metaphysisch angehaucht sagt. (…) Falling Man ist ein Roman im freien Fall, eine Übung im freien Denken." - Georg Diez, Die Zeit
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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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception:
Apparently many reviewers came with great expectations: many felt that if there was any author to 'tackle' the subject-matter of "9/11" (the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York (and the Pentagon) in September, 2001)
it was DeLillo.
Many also felt that in a sense he had already written about "9/11" in his earlier fiction, much of which seemed to pre-figure those events.
Reactions to the book were decidedly mixed, with a general consensus that the figure of the terrorist Hammad was the weakest element.
Much was made of DeLillo's style, though even his approach to dialogue (apparently it sounds pretty stilted) had some defenders.
It received a lot of review-attention -- DeLillo ranking as one of the must-be-reviewed American authors --, and has made the American bestseller lists, but the initial reactions suggest this won't go down as the definitive novel-take on
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Other books by Don DeLillo under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Contemporary American fiction
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About the Author:
Popular American author Don DeLillo was born in 1936.
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© 2007-2011 the complete review
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