Friday, June 22, 2007

A Long Way From 28 Barbary Lane

My friend James mentioned to me on Saturday that he had bought the new "Tales Of The City" book "Michael Tolliver Lives". I was kind of surprised that I wasn't aware of it before because I'm a big fan of the series (having started reading them around 20 years ago when only the first few had been published). I was stuck for a book to read on the train home a couple of days ago, so I popped into Borders with some excitement to see if they had it. They did.

I was a bit daunted by the $32.95 price tag on the large 'trade' (appropos?) sized paperback, especially when a flick through it showed that the text was equally oversized and a bit sparse. Given that the book is set in the present day with our young hero Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver now a 55 year old, maybe the large format text was thematic.

The cover of the Australian edition. In my opinion, thoroughly underwhelming.

I'm not a fan of the Australian edition cover (above). The design itself is ok and very eye-catching, but unless it crops again up at the end of the novel (I'm not there yet), the orchid shown on the cover is only mentioned in a throw away aside in one line in one scene. It just doesn't seem to fit this book. I much prefer the overseas style cover (below) which at least places the story in the context of San Francisco, the city which itself is almost a character in all of the novels.

The cover of the overseas edition. I think this places it much more into the "Tales Of The City" oevre.

It pains me to write this, but it's just ok. I haven't finished it yet but I'm around 75% done. The other "Tales Of The City" books always entertained with their outlandish coincidences, topical storylines, loveable characters and sense of this large collection of friends being 'family'. I don't get that from this book.

I read a somewhat scathing review in the online UK Guardian, much of which I sadly agree with. (A less opinionated publisher's review is here.)

The novel is entertaining enough, but doesn't read like a 'Tales' book. For a start the invisible narrator (Maupin himself) is absent and the novel is written in Michael's first person voice. Sure the characters are older and their journeys have changed. Sure people that we loved intensely once and thought we'd be Best Friends Forever with move on. Sure we live in complicated and difficult times. But, where's the joy? Where's the novel 'family' we grew to love? Largely absent, sadly. Taking some of the charm with them.

I don't hate it. Not by a long shot, but I loved these books and these characters. I do think Maupin has lost his way here somewhat. In trying to make a later instalment with older, more adult characters who reflect the changes of ageing he has lost the fun of the earlier books.

I guess reading it makes me feel sort of a bit sad and old myself in an odd way. Like you sat down with a bunch of longterm friends, only to think "you know what, we used to be more fun than this".


Mikey (TLE) said...

I know this is heresy, but I could never get into the "Tales of the City" novels. My fault for being a late blooming "orchid" and seeing the TV version first, I guess.

I thought "The Night Listener" was a fantastic book, though. I read it while I was on a buck's weekend of "golf and girls" in Bangkok with some friends from Hong Kong... Perhaps it was the circumstantial juxtaposition that made the book work. Who knows.

I'm toying with the idea of taking myself off to see the new Fantastic Four movie this afternoon (it's Chris Evans thing). I take it you're not interested in seeing it?

The Other Andrew said...

I think I grew up with the books in a sense, which is why they are so dear to me. Has the movie of the Night Listener been and gone already?

I'd like to see the F4 movie, but I want to avoid going out in the cold night air at the moment. Too much hacking.

Mikey (TLE) said...

Perhaps I will forego the film. Mayhap we may see it on the weekend?

I just checked out some blog called "Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry". What a nob that guy is. Sorry, just saying.

The Other Andrew said...

Ok, sometime during the weekend could work.

(Is the author 'Harry Hutton' of "Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry" the Harry that we know? As in Harry and Alaric?)

Mikey (TLE) said...

No, thankfully.

thombeau said...

I absolutely LOVED those first books, they came out around the same time I did! So they left quite an impression on the young me. I was also happy with the TV version, I thought they captured the essence very well, and the actors seemed like they were having a ball. To this day, I can't see Olympia Dukakis (whose birthday it was yesterday!) or Laura Linney without thinking "Anna Madrigal" or "Mary Ann Singleton". But I will forego reading this latest installment.

By the way, A, I hope you are feeling better...

The Other Andrew said...

Thanks Thom, I'm definately on the mend.

Please don't let me put you off reading this. Seriously. I'm disappointed but it's probably still worthwhile you reading it sometime. As with all matters of taste, your mileage may vary! :)

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

ha, For Battle has had Chase Me Ladies on our blogroll for a while. I never know whether to take him seriously or not... but it's definitely not the work of the Horde. too subtle ;-)

been down the coast for a few days, just catching up now. hope you get over your hackiness TOA, it has been a real lingerer around the traps.

and btw OMG!!! that Hotel! those rooms! they make me swoon. stunning. love it. which I had a house with rooms big enough to do that sort of thing, because I would. but it would all be too claustrophobic in this bungalow. how utterly luscious.

Miss Wired said...

Awesome. I'm still going to read this regardless.

nash said...

A friend of mine's also reading this at the moment. I'll be interested to know what he makes of it. I have to concur with Mikey (tle) and admit to being a heretic too...

Michael said...

You've saved me the trouble. Try as I might, I didn't revel in Tales of the City anyway. And I tried. I actually enjoyed his Maybe the Moon more.
Mikey (tfe)