Colum McCann – Let the Great World Spin

Philippe Petit
Philippe Petit

Let the Great World Spin is a real book, and so different from the airport novel I have now moved on to. It’s a book you don’t read for the plot, and certainly not a page turner. It’s more of a slow burn.

The first parts of Let the Great World Spin are set in Ireland and deal with the childhood of Corrigan, a strange boy who grows up to be a Catholic priest. We see him through the eyes of his brother. The writing is fine and detailed, and Corrigan is an interesting and unique invention.

Later the scene changes, and the rest of the book is set in New York. Here Corrigan is living out his vocation, sacrificing himself to support a rag tag bunch of prostitutes: he offers them a safe place, takes beatings from their pimps, and supports them at court. The book shows us a wider range of characters drawn from the seedy side of New York life. Throughout the writer is adept at imagining these first person narratives, at getting into the heads of the different characters, and this is quite an imaginative feat, though not always easy or entertaining reading.

The novel revolves around the day on which Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center – August 7th 1974. This event links each section in some way. The aftermath of the Vietnam War is also significant to many of the characters, and we see an America wounded either by poverty or the war – and sometimes both.

The final section of the novel is about redemption: I found it very moving, full of hope and beautifully written – the sense of love and hope creeping up almost unseen. You need to be very patient to get there though.

In the end I could see why this won a National Book Award.

Philippe Petit – Guardian Article


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