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A Book of Common Prayer Paperback – International Edition, April 11, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Review

An articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time, a memorable voice."—Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review"A novelist with important things to say about the dislocations of our time.... Joan Didion is stellar."—Newsday

From the Inside Flap

Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil.

A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls much of the country's wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. "Immaculate of history, innocent of politics," she has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter. As imagined by Didion, her fate is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 11, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679754865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679754862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Maslow on July 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As with all of Ms. Didion's books, I take my time with them, to truly cherish her writing style. I am a huge fan of her use of characterization, as well as her use of grammer. (Besides this book, I regularly recommend Play It As It Lays and Miami, two other great books by Ms. Didion.) Everytime I think of this book, I think of how the brave narrator, in the course of the developments of the novel, regrets, with the last line in the book, the opening statement she made in the book's lead. One of the all-time best books I've ever read, you have got to give this book a read, too.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on January 7, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this uncommonly excellent prose, Ms. Didion describes an incredible scenario of a revolution in a Caribbean country. The country is dirt poor. There is no good water, there are no proper sewers and there are few good roads, except the one highway that leads to the house of El Presidente.

The people live in squalor and there are only a few people in this island of the damned who are in fact solvent. The story tells of the tale of an American lady, norteamericana, who comes to the island, for reasons even she herself does not know. Her life has been tragic and strange. Her child becomes an American revolutionary and is involved in the hijacking of a plan from California to Utah. She lives an underground life and has no connection to her parents, whom she rejects socially and economically.

Didion's reporting style writing is almost a perfect match for telling the story of this obscure countries political corruption and the insurgency that exists within. She uses her incredible ability to turn a phrase and then to use it multiple times for an emphasis that is extraordinary in painting the picture of the world about her. Charlotte Douglas has come here to figure out something, but what it is hard to tell. She seems to be adrift in the impoverished lands of Boca Grande which translates to "Big Bay" or also as Didion points out to "Big Mouth."

Those in charge do have big mouths and talk out of both sides of it. There is constantly a strange dance performed by the few landowning ruling class that is constantly trying to shift the balance of power on the island to accommodate their own personal purposes. In the ensuing revolutionary action, Charlotte is actually killed.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Welch on March 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Arguably, this is one of a handful of great modern american novels from the last quarter of the 20th century. from its remarkable opening chapter, it weaves a hypnotic spell, with didion's characteristic romanticizing of despair and existential angst. this is a novel of sentences. sentences to be savored, and read aloud. sentences without one extraneous word; as balanced as poetry, and utterly perfect from the first syllable to the last. didion remains one of the few writers who can comment on a scene by way of description. the details she focusses upon serve to illustrate her vision in a manner only a small handful of authors can manage. it is the mark of a master, and this is, without question, her masterpiece. it is didion's reportage and essays that have made her reputation, but this very challenging and utterly flawless novel is the equal to her non fiction prose. it is not a novel for the casual reader. however, for any student of delusion, and any admirer of serious literature of the highest order, a book of common prayer is an essential text.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1997
Format: Paperback
Didion's liturgical language is absolutely captivating. I read this book in one day and have re-read it at least five times. Her female characters, called shallow by some critics, are extremely interesting and what is left unsaid is what the novel is about. Didon isn't an easy read, but her images stay with you, puzzle you and haunt you
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By meeah on September 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
Joan Didion uses a distinctively flat, affectless style and an unreliable narrator in "A Book of Common Prayer." She utilizes both to great effect to recount the mystery of Charlotte Douglas, an American expatriate in Boca Grande, the capital of a Central American country whose government is overthrown almost as regularly as clockwork.

Grace Tabor, the aforementioned unreliable narrator, is an anthropologist dying of pancreatic cancer. She is also married into the dysfunctional family dictatorship that runs the country. She has set herself the project of constructing a sort of anthropological case study of Charlotte Douglas. But Charlotte is a woman who seems to exist largely in a world of her own. She defies classification within the parameters of what is normal human behavior.

Charlotte has come to Boca Grande for reasons that she hardly seems to understand herself. Her daughter, Marin, is wanted by the FBI in a plane hijacking. She is currently married to a lawyer who represents political radicals. She has an ex-husband who is a) brilliant b) crazy c)Marin's father d) dying e) abusive f) sexually, psychologically, sadistically obsessed with Charlotte.

Tabor's attempt to tell Charlotte's "story" is full of ellipses, lacunas, and empirical facts of dubious provenance. Her own life is similarly full of holes and blind spots. As Tabor says, "I have not been the witness I wanted to be." Though it isn't for lack of trying.

As Boca Grande slouches towards its scheduled revolution, there are signs that forces darker and more ominous than the usual are at work behind the scenes.
Charlotte seems not just willing to die for no particular reason, but to be inviting the catastrophe.

Why?
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