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Communion Town: A City in Ten Chapters Hardcover – July 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sam Thompson's debut, a novel of stories set in enigmatic Communion Town, landed a coveted spot on the Man Booker longlist. Like David Mitchell and Italo Calvino, Thompson has some fun trying out literary styles. One chapter is written as a noir-ish caper, another as a futuristic romance, another follows a serial killer, and there's even a lovely childhood fable with notes of magical realism. The cumulative effect is of a world simultaneously revealed and obscured: just when you've gotten a grip on Communion Town, it's transformed. Thompson's sentences are graceful enough that he mostly pulls off these crafty fireworks—at least when it comes to miming a style. But too often, exhilarating sentences (like one describing the sea as full of the movements of an anticipatory audience, rustling programs, shushing itself...) are buried in descriptive layers that deaden an entire page. In the opening story, a dramatic event is obliquely mentioned over and over in the span of 20 pages. When the action is revealed, it hardly seems worth the wait. Thompson is a talented writer with a seemingly boundless interest in language and its potential; one can't help but wish that he applied some of his energy to getting to the point. (Dec.) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In his lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, English writer Thompson draws on horror, noir, and other genres to fashion the titular city through the eyes of 10 distinct inhabitants. A detective down on his luck scores a case that could make or break his career. A slaughterhouse worker witnesses a haunting murder that strains his relationship with his enigmatic boss. A caseworker recounts the struggles of his immigrant clients. Friends and strangers swap stories at a bar while one man ventures outside, where horrific things supposedly happen after dark. And a janitor-by-day and rickshaw-driver-by-night dates a folk musician who introduces him to the guitar, which becomes a new obsession that both changes his life and hinders their relationship. While no overarching plot weaves the characters’ stories together, Communion Town serves as the real protagonist, a fully realized place that Thompson—with often breathtaking prose and versatility—peoples with cynics, dangerous wanderers, and lonely outcasts. A shadowy city saturated with life and lore, and held together by human struggles. --Jonathan Fullmer --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (July 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007454767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007454761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,525,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was eager to read Communion Town after learning it was a Man Booker nomination (long listed at this point). It also received considerable praise and attention from the media, including a blurb from Tash Aw on the back cover, an author also once longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Based on the book's description, I expected the novel to focus on a city portrayed from different viewpoints - perhaps culminating in a deeper and intriguing sketch of a place, real or imagined.

Unfortunately, I labored to finish Communion Town. I stuck with it only because I feel uncomfortable reviewing a book without seeing it through. Although less than 300 pages, it felt more like 600.

I did have some hope in the early pages of the first chapter. That one focused on Ulya and Nicolas as they arrived at "the city", a pair "different from the rest." The plot was somewhat understandable at this point as Nicolas and Ulya applied for identity cards and help with finding food and housing.

But even before the chapter's conclusion, it became obscure and indecipherable....and from that point on, the book never came together. I was left wondering: was this novel part realism, part science fiction? Was it meant to be dream- like or mythic? Would the sentences ever lead anywhere coherent? Was there some inherent flow to the book that I was missing?

Whatever it was...it lost me completely.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like Communion Town, the collection of linked stories by Sam Thompson. For one, I'm a fan of "city stories," such as Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities or the cities of China Miéville and the like. I'm also generally a big fan of the structure -- a series of stories linked by theme or setting or some other threading material. And while there was a good amount to like in the collection, in the end it fell down a bit too much for me as a piece, though I'd recommend several of the stories.

The book is subtitled "A City in Ten Chapters" and that's pretty much what one gets: a series of stories set in the same city, though the stories present us different points of view, and here was one of my issues with Communion Town. I think Thompson intentionally wants these different characters to present us a different city, but from my point of view it was a little too different. I wanted the city to be just a little more consistent, so that I had a sense that I was being shown different faces of the same place, different faces of the same crystal perhaps. But instead, the city didn't hold together as a singular entity -- it felt too often like cities rather than a city.

Along the same lines, I wished both for more and less connective tissue between the stories. A few times we see a character or an event from another story appear in the background or fly by like one of those "did I just see that -- let's replay that on the DVR" on The Simpsons. These kinds of connections didn't come frequently enough nor were they substantive enough for me. On the other hand, the thematic connection -- a focus on storytelling -- was a bit too on the nose for me.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on August 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a short story collection of 10 stories loosely clustered around the theme of a city seen from different prospectives. But wait, the only reason most of us are reading this is that it is longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize. And only novels are eligible. So its a novel in 10 fairly unrelated stories?

My vote for the unifying element, the fig leaf that makes this a novel instead of a short story collection is the Flaneur. It is hard to provide spoilers in this plot less book, but I won't ruin whatever fun you might have with this book by over explaining my theory. I think the author has taken the 19th century concept of flaneur, of a lone walker creating his (always his) own environment by aimlessly creating pathways, both mental and physical, through the city. This powerful, poetic, defiant Parisian invention becomes a morphing zombie devouring the city. Lame, lame and triple lame!

The book is just full of verbal playfulness. There is a mock horror story, the noirist of noir stories and a pseudo Sherlock Holmes tale. Each story attempting to mimic the writing style of the literary genre he copies. But the author's skills fall short of this goal. "In Meaney's it could have been any afternoon, any joint." Derivative and annoying; not the least inventive. In the same way he has moronically crippled the evocative world of the flaneur, he has simply mocked the genres he tries to emulate.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is full of such rooms. Thompson plays with his readers. Just as one is sure of one's footing, the genre changes. The chapters are tailored to the portrayal of a series of outliers. Each dwells in cloudy neighborhoods of a town you can almost smell before it slips away. Throughout the book stalks the flaneur, the secret walker who seems to prey upon the city.

Reading this novel requires the willingness of the reader to conspire in the worship of words and the sensory vignettes invoked by Thompson. This book is a submersion into waking dreams. In its literate descriptions and flashes of character, this book uses language in a unique dance of the mind that I find the highest of an experience.
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