Colum McCann – Thirteen Ways of Looking


The great Colum McCann returns with a novella and three accompanying stories. The novella is particularly brilliant and marks McCann out once again as one of the best writers of his generation.

J Mendelssohn is pondering why the heating won’t work in an apartment that’s worth millions. He’s an old man now that seems to have lived an illustrious career as a judge. He’s wondering how to write about his life and old memories are constantly coming up. He thinks about his late wife Eileen and sprays some of her perfume onto the pillow to pretend she’s still there. This is the sweetest of things and their story is quite a love story, with him having known her from his time in Ireland but never actually speaking to her. They built up their relationship with a series of letters to each other from the different countries.

He’s a frail man now and his memory seems to be slipping away from him. He’s frustrated that he can recall dinners with Muldoon and Heaney but he can’t remember his carer putting a diaper on him that very morning.

He leaves the house to have dinner with his son. He’s clearly a sweet man, highly thought of by the staff in the restaurant. His son is more than rude to everyone on his visit. Shortly afterward Mendelssohn is attacked and the book looks at what happened and who may have been involved.

The detectives are looking at everything, playing and replaying for clues. They look at cameras from home, the restaurant, the street and the funeral. The past is something that keeps living on, with them looking for new clues and angles to help them with the story of the death. The attention to detail is paramount in teasing out the exact nature of what happened, something similar to McCann’s supreme writing skill.

The second story sees a writer teasing out a story, looking at all the scenarios and how the characters interact in order to try and get into the reality of the story. The final story in the book sees cameras and screens play a role, acting as another witness to events.

McCann himself was a victim of a horrific attack. His reaction to this shines through in this book, a work that looks at the nature of humanity and the role of the writer and the need for multiple angles and perspectives to build up a true picture of a story. It could’ve been released a novella in its own right but the other stories are certainly of the standard we expect from McCann.


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