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Colum McCann – Let the Great World Spin

I picked this up in New York City’s rather overwhelming Strand Bookshop. While I spent about half my time in NYC reading classics that I’d never gotten around to, the other half I devoted to American fiction by authors that I hadn’t heard of. This was one of the better in that latter category.

I must admit to picturing Man on Wire in my head almost the entire time that this book began to describe it’s fictionalised account of Philippe Petit’s audacious tightrope act. I think, however, that words fall short describing the raw power of that image. I think the author admits this, since a photograph of Philippe mid-walk is present roughly two thirds of the way through the book. That the photo includes an aeroplane flying over and seemingly into the World Trade Centre provided a moment of cold-blood and dread the moment I saw it. It took me a second or two to realise that Philippe was in the shot, and that it wasn’t a grainy photo from 911.

September 11th, 2001, casts its shadow over the entire book. I couldn’t help but think “I know how this ends” while I was reading. This does, however, add a suitable tone of dread and foreboding that accentuates a story which revolves around a doomed Jesuit priest. As enjoyable as it is to read (it really is a joy) the book’s problem is that by invoking a past with a known future, it does not leave much room for drama and suspense. Seventies NYC is brought to life in a bubble, and there it stays.