Thirteen Ways of Looking

Ever since reading James Joyce Dubliners & A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, books set in and about Dublin immediately have a bit of a handicap. They are all Joyce until proven otherwise. And not just Dublin, really. It’s the problem I have with Colm Toibin–I couldn’t remove his Empty Family collection from Dubliners, because the style was so similar. The short stories just go nowhere, I cannot connect to them with either author.


Today I am presented with Colum McCann. I have heard of his work, but have not had an opportunity to read him previously. He has a new collection coming out today, Thirteen Ways of Looking, a novella and three shorts. There are two common threads among them all:  1. They all have some connection to Dublin; and 2. They are all based around a very real attack that Colum experienced on his own person.

As usual, I went into this somewhat blind. I didn’t know the above information until most of the way through the book–when I finally looked up the summary to see what was going on. Sometimes, blind reading isn’t ALWAYS a benefit, and in this case, it was probably my failing here. I mostly liked the novella–the main character is a snarky old man and his narration his hilarious. Most people will have a grandfather or some other old fox in their life that they can relate him to. For me, he’s a deadringer for my Grandaddy. But, the perspective kept changing to the detectives, and that part didn’t always make sense. Did he have previous threats? Why were there cameras in his living room that they were watching?

The novella ended so abruptly that I was very confused when the first short story started. In fact, I didn’t realize that these were completely new characters in a completely new setting. Why was the format so different? Only when I got to the second story did I realize this wouldn’t link back to the novella, and that’s when I looked up the author and found out about his attack.

The writing is well done–better than Joyce, that’s for sure. And I did connect to the novella’s characters, for the brief time we had together. But the shorts were just too, well, short. It’s why I never prefer this style of book–give me a full novel, or give me a collection of short stories, so at least I know what I’m getting into from the beginning.


I’m giving this 2 Book Dragons. However, this is mostly due to personal style preference, and less of the author’s failings. I just don’t care for this kind of book.


Netgalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases October 13.


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