Observatory Mansions

Observatory Mansions

A Novel

Book - 2000
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"Easily the most brilliant fiction I've seen this year -- it proves the potential brilliance of the novel form." -- John Fowles, author of The Magus Observatory Mansions, once the Orme family's magnificent ancestral home set on beautiful grounds, is now a crumbling apartment block stranded on a traffic island, peopled with eccentrics. Thirty-seven-year-old Francis Orme lives in Observatory Mansions with his peculiar parents and a collection of misfits. By day he is a street performer, earning money as "a statue of whiteness" in the park, wearing white gloves to ensure that his skin never touches anything. He steals items for his museum of significant objects (996 in all), not for their monetary value but because they have been loved, often bringing grief to their erstwhile owners. His bedridden mother, Alice, who has created for herself an alternative time frame called "fiction," and his father, Francis, are among the occupants set apart from the rest of the busy city by their histories, their memories, and their relationships with the other seven inhabitants of the flats. Each of the house dwellers has his or her own story, as seen through Francis's eyes, and the careful routine and harmony of the house are shaken when along comes a new resident, the half-blind, vulnerable Anna Tap. She is sympathetic and resourceful, and slowly the desperately lonely residents begin to open up their long-closed hearts. As the delicate balance of Observatory Mansions begins to shift, Francis finds himself having to protect the secrets of his past and the sanctity of his collection, while growing emotionally closer to Anna. Hailed as no less than a tour de force, Observatory Mansions is a debut novel of immense originality--a strangely haunting landscape occupied by compelling and unforgettable characters.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2000
Edition: 1st American ed
ISBN: 9780609606803
Branch Call Number: F
Characteristics: 356 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm


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CRRL_MegRaymond Oct 03, 2017

This book is wry, and tender, and heart-breaking. Full of socially mal-adjusted individuals who nevertheless feel regret and longing and despair. Even if, like Francis Orme, they can only bear to feel the world while wearing white gloves.

Jan 26, 2015

Intriguing setting and story concept: a building full of misanthropes and cranky lonely hearts gets their predictable, comfortable world turned upside down when a new tenant arrives. Observatory Mansions has a lot going for it: atmospheric, neoveau-gothic backdrop and a cast of quirky, twisted characters who live hiding behind the heavy drapes of regret and longing. Edward Carey tenderly reveals their stories to us in a meandering fashion, as if to ease us into this uncomfortable, mold-ridden world. So I had high expectations; I expected a kind of parallel, grotty magical universe akin to Alice in Wonderland or something written by Shirley Jackson.

Where the book failed for me was in the writing style. I couldn't get into it, even though I thoroughly acknowledge the literary necessity of it. Francis Orme likes objects. People seem to be subsumed by the objects around them. So Carey writes in this repetitive, droning style, which reflects the mental state of the narrator and his sense of order and things-in-their-place-ness. You'll get lists and lists of things, which in their own way is the only way our emotionally stunted narrator can tell his story. In that way, the book almost feels like an inventory of human frailties. It's got a very visual and tactile feel to it, which makes me think this might have worked better as a graphic novel. (Do we need all the text and narration?)

Ironically the book's clipped, declarative style is what others found so captivating. Really?! I'm flummoxed. I'm a fan of the postmodern sleight of hand or two, but only when the trickery is filled with a little more intrigue than what we get in this book. You can't carry a story by just throwing a bunch of grotesque characters together, no matter how charming they are. Something needs to happen.

Sadly, I was largely immune to the charms of this oddball, but I admire its ambitions.


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