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As It Is in Heaven Hardcover – July 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

It seems right that the lovers in Niall Williams's As It Is in Heaven hail from Italy and Ireland, those sentimental favorites among nations. Williams won kudos and laurels, fans and fame for his first novel, Four Letters of Love, and his second finds him once again illuminating a simple love affair with his own special brand of fine and even brave mawkishness. Dubliner Stephen Griffin, though possessed of a "thin and long" body, is stunted emotionally by the loss of his mother and sister in a tragic car wreck. That is, until one evening he ends up at a tiny concert hall in County Clare, listening to the Venetian beauty Gabriella Castoldi play the violin. Williams writes with fairy-tale breathlessness of the audience: "The room was balmy with delight. And when the people sat again for the slow and romantic melancholy of the Puccini, they were pillowed on a deep and heartfelt gladness.... Stephen looked at the woman whose name he did not yet know and his heart raced." Such mauvish passages abound. Here is an author who never met a bold pronouncement on the subject of Love that he didn't, well, Love. At one point, for instance, Stephen "heard the victory of Love over Death." What makes Williams's writing work--to the degree that it does work--is the way his fuzzy, myopic generalizations are coupled with keen observation: "Stephen danced like a man who had been given wooden legs. They flew out in sharp angles and measured air like a pair of pincers." A stack of suitcases is "an Italian hilltown." At its best, this gentle magical realism reads like Mark Helprin without the irony. And like Helprin, Williams is in thrall to the glamour of geography. Stephen and Gabriella pursue each other through Clare and Kerry to Venice and back. The course of true love never did run smooth, but the bumps here prove none too discouraging. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Williams, a gifted Irish writer, was known only for nonfiction until his first novel Four Letters of Love reaped a chorus of praise (including a PW Best Books accolade) a couple of years ago. Now he has tried to repeat the trick, but unfortunately the freshness that leaped from the pages has become mere practiced calculation. His hero, Stephen Griffin, is a dim young man declining into premature senility as a history teacher, whose life is transformed by the rather improbable arrival of a beautiful but deeply unhappy young Italian violinist, Gabriella Castoldi, to play a concert at a little West Ireland hotel. Griffin is struck dumb with passion; since symptoms of magic realism abound, smells of white lilies and a general glowing aura convince those around him he is in love. Gabriella, emerging from an unhappy affair, decides to stay on in Ireland; Griffin meets her again and they have a fling; she goes back to Venice and finds she is pregnant; he follows but cannot find her; she comes back; finally, they carry out the wishes of an old blind seafarer (shades of Under Milk Wood's Captain Cat) and build a beautiful little music school by the sea. Williams is a felicitous phrasemaker, and he conjures up some lovely poetic images of weather and seascapes. Passages about the ineffable beauty of music and the emotional impact it can have are touching. But the sense of delighted surprise that was so constant in Letters is notably absent; the story is far more rigidly structured, and the characters, from Stephen's poor dad dying of cancer and trying to give his money away, to a chirpy lady who keeps a greengrocer shop and knows what fruits to sell for all ills of the heart, are tired clich?s. There are pleasures here for those who enjoy the equivalent of a beautifully photographed, sad movie, but Williams had seemed capable of much more. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (July 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446525480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446525480
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
"As It Is In Heaven" is my favorite Niall Williams book. Part of the reason it is my favorite is the fact that it takes place in Ireland and in Venice...two of my favorite places in the world. And Ireland and Venice are perfect locales for this story with its distinctly fairy tale quality. There is magic in "As It Is In Heaven" and it is definitely Irish magic.
The characters in this book are all emotionally and spiritually damaged, but then who isn't? Still, Philip, Stephen and Gabriella seem to be a little more damaged and vulnerable to pain than are most and they really come to life in this book. Williams does a superb job of baring their souls and letting us share in their emotions.
Philip Griffin is a man who blames himself for the death of his wife and young daughter many years ago (although he is blameless). Stephen, his son, now thirty-two, was raised and loved by his father, but it is clear that the loss of his mother has affected him deeply. He is a man who knows "the fine skills of walking in empty rooms and being aware of the ghosts." Although the story isn't predictable, its theme is clear: this is a story about the redemptive power of love, the power of love to heal, to make whole.
Stephen feels his life begin to heal when he meets the beautiful Venetian violinist, Gabriella Castoldi. Gabriella is a women who is fighting ghosts of her own. An "expectancy of grief" hovers over her at all times; it is so powerful it even affects those with whom she interacts.
This is a story that could so easily have fallen into the very maudlin. And sometimes Williams does give in to the temptation to write a little over-the-top. Love doesn't heal all wounds; it's no magic panacea of beauty and poetry and it can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Arry Tanusondjaja on August 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Niall Williams can really string up words and feelings together into a magical story. Yes, he is a hardcore romantic, however, his story comes out sweet and intoxicating, and not soppy and predictable. I read "Four Letters of Love" and got hooked up with his style of writing. This is a story of somebody who is gripped by love that he is willing to chase his dream ... the story of a sad violinist called Gabriella Castoldi and a lonely teacher called Stephen Griffin, and how Divine intervention plays a part in their relationship ...
If you like imaginative, romantic story, and you want to smile or cry because you can remember yourself being in that position before, and having it narrated in such a beautiful way, do get a copy of "As it is in Heaven", or better still, give it to your loved one!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There should be a big buzz over this book and this author - Where is Oprah when you really need her? Williams' writing is absolutely breathtaking. It was so good that I literally had to take "rests" between chapters to savor what I had read. This is a wonderful follow-up to The Four Letters of Love which I also highly recommend.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Britt Arnhild Lindland on April 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
Having read Niall Williams two other books, Four letters of Love, and The Fall of Light, I was really looking forward to this book. Still it was waiting a long time in my shelves untill I started it, and when I did it took me some time to get into.
Williams is a master of the written word. His language is strong, and captivates you in a way few other writers do. His books are about everlasting love, and of lost, though he never writes in a sentimentaly way. In As It Is In Heaven we meet Philip Griffin and his son Stephen. The two of them are alone in the world after the tragical death of Philip's wife and young daughter. The death of these two dominates the life of the two men and the whole book. All Philip has to live for is his son, and the knowledge that when he has done what he has to do for his son, he will meet his wife again in heaven.
The way Williams write about love underline the believe I have in love. Love is strong, love can live through everything, love can do everything. And for Philip Griffin life and love is like this. And this is also what his son learns. Love is everything. Stephen grows up with the shadows of his past over his life, when he meets Gabriella Castoldi, the Italian musician who change Stephens life for ever. We now follow Stephen, the man who can give nothing less than his whole life, and Gabriella, the woman who doesn't know to live with this "whole life" Stephen is offering her. This is the strong theme in the book, but this is at the same time what makes it hard for me to believe in the book. Stephen is giving so much, how can a man really act like this? And at the same time, Gabriella seems uncapable of recieving all this love.
Williams style of writing is poetic, and ge goes deep into what he writes about. Though this is not his best book he is still one of my favorite writers of today. I look forward to more from his pen.
Britt Arnhild Lindland
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Quan Lam on September 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I really loved both "Four Letters Of Love" and Niall Williams' newest "As It Is In Heaven." I think many of those who have read this book and reviewed it looked too deeply into the meaning of the book. And thus many of you were expecting too much from it, hoping that it would be similiar to Four Letters Of Love. But where would originality come from if Williams were to write his books exactly the same? One reviewer said that it was too painful for her to read that Stephen was simply in love, that Stephen as Williams wrote "..was in love". Why does love have to contain confusion, torment, and hurt to prove that in fact it is love? I felt what Stephen had and knew he could possess for Gabriella throughout the book and when he simply said to her over the phone that he loved her, it could not have been more moving and powerful to hear a man say those words to a woman without any other word needed to be spoken. I loved this book and it is simple as that. I could not put it down. Love can be the simplest emotion to feel and to present to another person. Niall Williams shows this through Stephen and his character's never ending love for the one woman he has ever loved, Gabriella. Why is that so hard to see?
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