Review of Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking


I reviewed Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking for the Sydney Morning Herald,  here. I was intrigued by the premise for the book, which has as its centrepiece a novella in which the main character is fatally assaulted in an apparently random attack. McCann himself was attacked on the streets of New York around the time of writing the book and I’m really interested in these uncanny connections that can be made between fiction and life. Given these circumstances, I think what’s extraordinary about the book is the underlying vein of empathy running through these stories, which all involve some type of crime.

McCann’s ability to focalise through these diverse set of characters is also praiseworthy here. Instead of the sense of McCann ventriloquising through his characters, there’s a very strong sense of him actually inhabiting them – not an easy thing to do, particularly in short form.

I got the sense here of McCann flexing his muscles as a writer and testing out new things. It will be interesting to see what comes of this in his next longer length work. Since writing the review, I’ve learned Thirteen Ways of Looking was listed as a NY Times Notable Book for last year.

Published by gretchenshirm

Sydney writer and critic. Author of Having Cried Wolf.

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