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Observatory Mansions: A Novel Paperback – February 5, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375709231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Playwright and freelance illustrator Carey's impressive first novel is so steeped in grotesque oddity, warped values and dysfunction that it makes David Lynch's work seem sunny and salubrious by comparison. Veering only occasionally toward painfully obvious symbolism, Carey's debut is a darkly idiosyncratic, sharply observed study of lonely men and women stranded on the bleakest periphery of conventional human intercourse. Narrator Francis Orme maintains a hidden "museum" comprising solely worthless objects pilfered from unsuspecting friends, relatives and strangers. The scion of a once-wealthy clan, Francis is a reclusive 37-year-old who makes his living impersonating public statuary. He wears spotless white gloves at all times and lives with his elderly, semicomatose parents in an unnamed city in an apartment complex called Observatory Mansions, housed in what was once the Orme family mansion. Francis's fellow tenants are hardly less eccentric. There's Peter Bugg, a retired pedagogue who can't seem to stop crying or perspiring; Claire Higg, a dowdy dowager with an all-consuming penchant for soap operas; and Twenty (so called because she lives in flat number 20), a bedraggled migr from an unspecified nation who believes that she's a dog. The inhabitants of Observatory Mansions may not be the happiest of people, but they've come to feel secure in their unflagging misery and in their rigid adherence to mindless routine. Secure, that is, until the arrival of Anna Tap, a feisty, fiercely optimistic new tenant who challenges their ossified notions of self, community and social interaction. Carey's precise, deadpan prose is a delight, effectively filtering the story's bizarre twists through his protagonist's equally oddball sensibilities. Francis Orme emerges as a memorable, even winningly demented narrator. His slow progression from alienation and anomie toward a more functional, openhearted worldview makes for an absorbing, unconventional, seriocomic odyssey. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Francis Orme calls himself the "attendant of a museum...of significant objects." His museum is his family's former estate, now a large apartment building encompassing a city block, the lives of whose tenants comprise one of the most mystifying arrays of eccentricity, experience, and interaction this side of Oz. Francis himself fits perfectly among them, with his adherence to a code of personal conduct that includes constantly wearing white gloves so that he can curate the collection of useless but beloved articles he has stolen. The mystery surrounding Francis's deceased elder brother, born with a life-curtailing genetic disorder, and its effect on his parents, of whom Francis is now also custodian, forms the core of this novel of love and revelation. This unique work, originally published by playwright Carey in England, is haunting in both setting and story and will fit nicely into the collections of larger libraries.DMargee Smith, Grace A. Dow Memorial Lib., Midland, MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 30 customer reviews
I am amazed at the creativity of the author.
Karen Kirsch
This is a good book to read after you've read a kindof boring one and don't feel like reading for awhile after that.
This is a completely original story, in both plot and voice.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on July 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"Observatory Mansions" is an excellent first novel by Edward Carey, that explores some of the most fundamental issues a person can deal with. At the center of the novel, the reader finds Francis Orme, the narrator, and resident of `Observatory Mansions', which is the subdivided remains of his ancestral home. Alongside Francis live characters that are so bizarre that one would consider them cartoonish if it wasn't for their heartbreaking psychoses. To reveal their mental disturbances, both collective and individual, would give away much of the plot, but it is sufficient to say that the element that holds them together is the "self-institutionalization" that they have inflicted on themselves and each other.
On the surface, Francis is the most outwardly normal of the cast of characters, although this isn't saying much. He wears gloves as a literal representation of the mental barriers he has placed between himself and the world. He collects what is in essence garbage, because he sees it as having been loved, and therefore uses it as a proxy for real love. However, his carefully constructed world, and those of his apartment-mates, come crumbling down with the arrival of a more spiritually rooted resident.
I think this is where a lot of the other reviewers have a complaint with this novel. I have yet to see a critique of the authors prose, which is reminiscent of Saramago's "All the Names", and I have seen no argument with his characterizations, which are superb. Rather, I think readers are disturbed because this book is about the power of the human spirit, and its ability to mend itself. Not all of the characters ride off into the sunset, but they don't all wither and die either. It is in this range of outcomes that Carey most effectively considers his core subject.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on March 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A psychiatrist could make a career doing case studies on the characters in this strange, wonderful book.

To know the story line, read the Amazon description. To know the real story, you have to live it. Unlike any book I have ever read, I was astounded at the author's ability to keep the characters "in character" throughout the book. Sustaining their personae while advancing the story shows an unusual talent.

While you can sometimes see what's coming you don't want to - it's far better to just let it happen. Carey even made the book the right length - long enough to develop the story without added filler to reach a certain length.

I will be looking forward to reading more from Edward Carey!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Wow. Finishing this book I am overwhelmed and awed that this is Carey's first novel. Very unique characters and situations and writing style. In many places you can see Carey's theatre background with the dialog reading more like a play without punctuation and the book's plot is more in scenes and acts than chapters, but it really works well for this story - it's about life (and all life's a play!) or the lack of life of this group of misfit characters. I really like the way Carey draws the reader in little by little -- reavealing just enough about one character to shock you, to move you, to keep you reading .... and then switches to another character. It's a book that I'm going to keep thinking about long after the reading of it. Yes, these are disturbed characters, but who among us can't recognize themselves in one or more of them? Anyone who collects anything must wonder where is the line that separates my collecting from the bizarre collecting of Francis Orne? I read a lot of books, and I love a book that keeps me guessing right up to the end, and this one definitely does. Bravo, Mr. Carey!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George Epp on January 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Carey, Edward
Observatory Mansions
Random House Canada, 2000
356 pages
Somewhere in urban Britain, Observatory Mansions is a tenement which was once an impressive country estate. Over time, the city has not only encroached upon it, but has surrounded it. Now it is a mostly empty, decrepit building waiting for the demolisher's wrecking ball. Meanwhile, however, it is home to Francis Orme and his aged parents, members of the wealthy and respected family once owners of Observatory Mansions and the lands around it.
Converted into an apartment block some time ago, it has never been a desired place for anyone to live except the very needy and the very eccentric, and as it deteriorates, a succession of bizarre characters passes through the place: a woman who has adopted the behaviour of a lost dog, a lascivious porter who hisses and badgers the tenants over misdemeanors against cleanliness, a woman whose real world unfolds behind the TV screen.
Told in the first person by Francis Orme, we learn very quickly that he is probably the most off beat of all the characters. He wears white cotton gloves at all times, is a meticulous collector of memorabilia of love - objects which meant a lot to people, mostly stolen by him - and makes his living busking, standing motionless on an abandoned plinth in the vicinity of Observatory Mansions and moving only to acknowledge coins dropping into his can by blowing soap bubbles at the donors.
Edward Carey is a playwright and freelance illustrator and his drawings of the faces of some of the characters of the "mansion" add to the surreal quality of the text. His narrator, an obsessive/compulsive collector and maker of lists and rules, turns out to be the perfect spokesperson for the people of the world whom time has left behind.
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