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Fool on the Hill: A Novel Paperback – December 8, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 112 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This exuberant first novel unfolds at Cornell University, the alma mater of its 22-year-old author, who has re-imagined his school as the center of a violent and funny modern-day fairy tale. Stephen Titus George is a young writer longing for true love and a great story to tell. With the mysterious appearance of Calliope, a sorceress who can transform herself into anyone's vision of female perfection, both of his dreams begin to come true. Ruff shapes an adventure for his protagonist that includes everything from poisoned apples to winged dragons, all set on a campus where there isn't a professor in sight and where the actions of dogs, cats and invisible sprites are as meaningful as those of the students. On its way to a certain happy ending, the story falls short of its own ambitionsit's vastly overpopulated with extraneous characters (human and otherwise), and packed with self-conscious, punning references to everyone from Beckett to A. A. Milne. Too many of Ruff's narrative devices exist only to spotlight the author's cleverness, but at its best, his debut brims iwth good humor and imagination.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this comic fantasy a young writer-in-residence at Cornell University searches for true love and combats the forces of evil. Ruff uses the stock motifs of fairy tale and myth, but his treatment is remarkably inventive. Inspired by the mysterious Calliope, Ruff's hero learns to write without paper and thus, by the force of his imagination, to revise the mundane scenario of life in Ithaca. Aptly named S.T. George, he vanquishes a green canvas dragon and thereby foils the malignant plot of Rasferret the Grub. The multi-layered plot also includes animals who communicate by telepathy and tiny sprites with Shakespearean names. Ruff's exuberant tale will appeal strongly to readers with a taste for the fabulous. Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (December 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802135358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802135353
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I wrote a review of this book last year and I just re-read it again and wanted to remind people how fabulous this book is.
I discovered this book just after it was published and just before I got into Cornell and I have read it at least ten times since (I am just four years out of good 'ole Cornell). It it one of my favorite books as it combines true life in Ithaca with a world that you always hoped existed somewhere. It has something for everyone - as it combines several full lentgh stories, which could easily be read independently of one another, into an exciting and fun adventure. The Fool On The Hill was Ruff's senior thesis (if I am to believe a professor of his that supposedly helped get it published) - I felt that his book was so fabulous I went out and signed up for a course with his mentor.
If you buy this book, I guarantee that you will loan it out and have to re-purchase it as I know that I have gone through about 7 or 8 copies already. This book will touch the child in all of you.
The book focuses on S.T. George, a writer who finds his muse and loses her, a group of bohemian college students with some magic up their sleeves and a cat and dog on a journey to find "heaven" and rid the animal world of castes (pure-breds vs. mutts) and you kind kind-of get the idea behind Fool.... but it is really SO much more.
I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone that likes to daydream!
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Fool on the Hill is one of the most inventive novels I've read in ages, and I very much enjoyed the comedic aspect of it. I think I actually laughed out loud once or twice. (High praise from me indeed. I haven't said that about any novel since Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore.)
I was afraid that Matt Ruff wasn't going to land his plane (err, kite) very well at the end because of the incredibly wild ride that we'd been on so far, but even there he pleasantly surprised me.
I highly recommend this book. Good characters, good scenery, inventive story (from sprites to evil ice birds to groups of animals having philosophical discussions to true love) -- all with a well-paced writing style and light-hearted sense of humor.
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Format: Paperback
I saw this novel on the store shelf and bought it on a whim, not having any idea at all to what genre it is or what the story was all about. Needless to say, I've fallen in love with this book and haven't been able to put it down until I finished reading the last pages. Matt Ruff's story is a marvelous blend of fantasy centered in the Cornell University campus and the real town of Ithaca. At first, I was reluctant to read about so many different main characters all in one novel, but Ruff's narrative brilliantly intertwined the individual character plots so seamlessly that it all came out into a neat framework in the end.
He writes about a writer (S.T. George)who is hapless in love, an ethereal muse who happens to be the most beautiful woman on earth, a normal girl and her normal boyfriend, some truly unique Bohemians in Risley, and a dog who searches for heaven. Oh, and add to that some sprites who watch over humans while they are blissfully unaware of this fantasy existence. By looking at this assorted list of characters, one might think that a confusion of names and plots would result from all this. But, Matt Ruff's narrative is clear, fascinating, and well-organized enough to overcome that.
His writing is full of humor. It's sorta like "Animal House" meets Tolkien. The college spirit is definitely there. I am also currently attending Cornell U., so his book brings back fond memories of the place. So perhaps in this sense, one would get more enjoyment from reading this book if he was familiar with Cornell. But regardless of the book's association with Cornell University, the story itself is so hilarious and interesting, that there probably should not be any huge problem of this happening.
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Format: Paperback
This wonderful fantasy novel is set at Cornell, and surely every Cornell student and alum should own a copy. But it's not just for Cornellians.

"Fool on the Hill" is for everybody who's ever fallen in love and everybody who thinks they never will. It's for everybody who pretended in their childhood to fight and vanquish evil. And it's for all of us who've ever sat quietly and tried, out of the corners of our eyes, to spot the magical beings we just knew were lurking around the bend.

Make no mistake, this is not harmless fantasy. Ruff pulls no punches, and characters you care about will get hurt, and even die. But the wonderful way in which Ruff interweaves several different threads, and the irreverence he has for literary conventions, are irresistible.

I must admit I have never understood why this book isn't far more popular, and I hope that people reading this review who've never read Ruff's work will take a risk and order a copy. And if you have a friend at Cornell, send them one, too; they'll love you for it.
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Format: Paperback
A truly wonderous book. I don't mean to overstate the case, but this is the kind of original work that comes around once in a lifetime.
This is the beauty of Amazon.com. After I wrote reviews of Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash" and "The Diamond Age", someone dropped me a line and recommended Ruff's second novel, "Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy". From there, it was on to Fool, and one of the most sublime reads I've ever had. Best described as a magical mixture of Cornell University life, little invisible sprites and the interior dialog of Cats and Dogs, this is a tighter, more effortless novel than Sewer. Despite the time shifting, incongruous characters and slides into Tolkeinesque fantasy, the book flows seamlessly to its conclusion and sweeps us poor unsuspecting readers along with it.
It's not often that a novel can toy with so many genres and writing styles and still produce a coherent, fully realized story. "Fool on the Hill" goes one better...it's an unmitigated classic.
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