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the Complete Review
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Talking about O'Dwyer


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To purchase Talking about O'Dwyer

Title: Talking about O'Dwyer
Author: C.K.Stead
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 243 pages
Availability: Talking about O'Dwyer - US
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Makutu - Deutschland
Recordando a O'Dwyer - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, engaging novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 25/1/2002 Isobel Montgomery
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 11/4/2002 Uwe Pralle
The Spectator . 27/5/ 2000 John De Falbe
TLS . 9/6/2000 Margaret Walters
World Lit. Today . Winter/2001 Paul Sharrad

  From the Reviews:
  • "Stead's exacting language holds the reader in the moment of the telling, thus what has kept O'Dwyer from returning to New Zealand is incidental to the cadences of Stead's narrative." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "Diese Vielzahl von Handlungselementen tut dem Roman nicht gut, weil einige angesichts der so ins Spiel kommenden Themen ein wenig zu dürftig bleiben." - Uwe Pralle, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(A)lthough Stead's insistence on the parallels between Newall and O'Dwyer seems over-schematic, his novel achieves real power through the vividness with which it conjures up a particular time and place -- whether it is 1930s New Zealand, contemporary Oxford, war-time Crete, or present-day Croatia. And there are moments when Stead succeeds in turning Newall's pre-occupation with the past into an intriguing meditation on the elusiveness of memory itself" - Margaret Walters, Times Literary Supplement

  • "There's a risk that readers will find all this a marketable attempt to cobble together action, romance, philosophizing, and a few national symbols. On the whole, however, it is well-cadenced prose in keeping with the character of the narrator, and a real strength is the depiction of an academic mind dealing with the grief of separations." - Paul Sharrad, World Literature Today

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:

       Talking about O'Dwyer begins with Donovan O'Dwyer dead. A somewhat larger than life Oxford figure from New Zealand, he never achieved quite the success expected of him.
       There are a lot of tales about O'Dwyer, and at and after his funeral there's a lot of talk. The novel focusses on another New Zealander at Oxford, the younger philosophy professor (an expert on -- of course -- Wittgenstein) Michael Newall, and what specifically, in talking about O'Dwyer, Mike can reveal.
       The focus is on a Maori curse put on O'Dwyer - a makutu. It might serve as an explanation for some of the disappointments of O'Dwyer's life -- though as someone points out: "Oxford, booze and women. Not a bad curse." The curse was put on him for something that happened in Crete during World War II: a Maori soldier, Joe Panapa, died. The family come to blame O'Dwyer for what happened there.
       What exactly happened is only slowly revealed in the book. The book moves back and forth, from the present to the war campaigns in the Mediterranean (as well as elsewhere). But Mike, recounting O'Dwyer's story, is also a strong presence: only a boy at the time of the war, his recollections offer a different view of life and events back then. in addition, he tells his own story, also intertwined with that of the Panapas, also leading him to dangerous territories -- in this case, the war-torn former Yugoslavia of the 1990s.
       Stead unfolds his tale quite well (though the back and forth -- the past so revealing for the present -- can be a very tired device). Things aren't quite what they seem, and Stead makes what they are quite interesting. This is a book of complex personal relationships -- Mike suffers for a lost love, for example, and feels great guilt over the suicide of a friend -- and Stead is particularly good at these, his characters human, and with human failings. It is also a novel -- full of exile -- that looks at a mix of cultures very well: the Maori here are not used simply for their exoticism -- and in any case are hardly more exotic than the Yugoslavian immigrants (and emigrants), or even the New Zealanders at Oxford.
       A good, solid read.

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Talking about O'Dwyer: Reviews: C.K.Stead: Other books by C.K.Stead under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       New Zealand writer Christian Karlson Stead was born in 1932. He taught at the University of Auckland and has written many works of fiction, poetry, and criticism.

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© 2002-2023 the complete review

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