My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This passage right here:
“…I wonder if, in the past, we didn’t trust each other more, knowing there would be stretches of every day when we would not be able to contact our spouses or children or parents, trusting they were simply getting on with their lives and being faithful to us and whatever they later reported having done was true, or at least plausible. For each of us, the freedom of not being reached, of wandering untracked through the city, browsing in bookstores and libraries, living life in a way the the mind did not feel hunted or followed or simply distracted by the silliness of unwanted messages and the ability to check stock prices every thirty seconds or receive alerts of breaking news, must have meant that as recently as a decade ago we were thinking more and reacting less. Is it any wonder we entered a more reactionary age? Our technology is teaching us to react rather than reflect, so that even the leftwing movements of the present seem no longer to be based in ideas as much as in the constantly shifting desire to respond to offense or inequality or injustice, and yet the discourse surrounding whatever the movement or outrage du jour might be seems too often founded on a wafer of historical and ideological ignorance.”
Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. And I recognize the inherent irony of posting a book review on a social media site while longing in some ways for a return to a less public, less monitored and scrutinized way of life.
Jeremy O’Keefe returns to New York after more than a decade of teaching at Oxford. He had originally fled to England after his divorce and a failure to gain tenure at a particular American university; he left Oxford when offered a position with another equally well-respected institute of higher learning. He finds an apartment and settles back into the daily routine of a New York City dweller. At the same time he realizes he’s lost touch with his old friends and they have moved on; he doesn’t fit anymore. His relationship with his now-married daughter is awkward and strained; he has no contact with his ex-wife; he spends a great deal of time alone, ruminating on his life and his circumstances; he pretends he likes it that way.
One day a young man strikes up a conversation with him in a coffee shop. A few days later, he encounters the same young man at his daughter’s party. And then a third run-in… In a city the size of New York, Jeremy thinks these meetings can’t be mere coincidence. Is this young man, Peter, following him? Is Peter behind the mysterious boxes of computer printouts that begin arriving at his apartment? Or is it the US government? Or is Jeremy imagining all of it?
The novel jumps back and forth between the years in Oxford and the present-day happenings in New York, gradually revealing the circumstances which led to Jeremy’s acceptance of the New York job offer, and which may be cause for government surveillance and questioning Jeremy’s loyalty to the country of his birth.
This novel moves at an almost glacial pace, with a great deal of internal (and self-serving) monologue, but it’s so beautifully written, I can forgive the navel-gazing. Truthfully, though, don’t most of us have these internal conversations? Maybe my empathy for Jeremy and his endless introspection stems from being an introvert myself.
Thank you to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program for the opportunity to read this book.
(Personal aside: I read this novel shortly after my husband and I returned from our first trip to New York. We stayed entirely in Manhattan and spent a great deal of time in the areas where the New York sections of this novel take place. It was great fun to place the streets and landmarks on the map of the city I now hold in my head; to recognize what it’s like to ride the subway and get out at Columbus Circle; to acknowledge how crowded the sidewalks are and how unlikely it is to see the same person in three different places on three different days. This extra bit of personal knowledge will enhance any book set in New York that I read in the future.)