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4.4 out of 5 stars
Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
If the only way you can see Multiple Personality Disorder is through the lens of Sybil, then maybe you should pass this book by, or at least commit to reading it with an open mind. Andrew and Penny are many things and many people, but they are not Sybil. This book is slightly more grounded in reality than Ruff's other books (no talking animals or genocidal computers, sorry) but that doesn't mean that this book isn't just as well-written and compelling. In fact, it's more so.
The best thing I can say about this book is that it changed the way I thought. It's very convincing, and after a few bad experiences with books that failed to convince me of their message, this book was a relief.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Andrew is the personality in charge of "driving" the soul-ridden body of Andy Gage. Born from the ashes of Andy Gage's mind, the society of multiple personalities live in a stable arrangement together thanks to a helpful therapist. Andrew is a recently born personality trying to give the body a fairly normal life, starting with a new job at a software company. But Andrew's stability is threatened when his impulsive boss, Julie, hires Penny, another victim of multiple personality disorder. Julie wants Andrew to help Penny tame the chaos in her head. Penny doesn't understand her condition, but some of her other personalities do. Andrew is reluctant to get involved, but Penny's group of protective personas make a plea for help. When his own house of souls collapses under the strain of several shocks, Andrew and Penny end up on a road-trip to confront the past.

This is one of the best fiction books I've read this year. Ruff's handling of the multiple personalities is both inventive and sensitive. He is straightforward in dealing with the abuse that led to Andrew and Penny's fractured state - it's clearly important, but not sensationalized. In spite of the serious subject matter, Ruff manages to incorporate a good measure of humor into the story. Andrew's journey gives a whole new meaning to "finding yourself." Ruff's excellent characterizations make it easy to root for Andrew, Penny, and their collective internal societies.

I like that Ruff avoids the trap of a cliched, sappy ending, instead making it clear that there are no easy solutions. Ruff's plot was engrossing in all its twists and turns, and only one late section seemed to jump a bit off the tracks. This is a compelling book that will entertain you even as it makes you think about how we all interact with the world.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Don't get me wrong - as a novel, this isn't the best book I've ever read. It's clear to me, at least, that Ruff's main purpose here is not to spin us through plot twists but to give us a portrayal of how life can be for a multiple. In fact, the sudden plot turn near the end feels somewhat contrived, as if he wrote it at the last minute out of a sudden fear that the main characters' lives and the interplay between them wasn't interesting enough.

Plot and craft weaknesses aside, though, this is one of the best books I've ever read about multiplicity. I can't possibly express how tiresome it is to read story after story of how "harrowing" and "horrifying" it is to be multiple, what a dreadful condition it is, what a nightmare all multiples' lives must certainly be, since we are, after all, "shattered," "broken," "destroyed" - pick an Adjective of Dread and I can guarantee our lives have been labeled with it. If we aren't written as cringing, manipulative victims of a terrible past, then we're murderers and serial killers With A Difference - and protests to the contrary go largely unheard in the vast, craggy face of the "conventional wisdom" that permeates the genre.

So hooray for Matt Ruff, who did extensive interviews and research among actual multiples who don't fit the stereotype pushed down society's throat - people who actually like being the way they are, regardless of how they got there.

So, what it comes down to is this: as fiction, the book's a decent read, unnecessary plot excitement aside. As a decently accurate alternative to the rest of the multiplicity-related schlock out there, it's one of the most progressive and refreshing books on the subject - fiction or nonfiction - that I've ever had the fortune to find.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
After his first two books - quirky and sharply written, deftly straddling the imaginary fence between fantasy and literary - Ruff made an interesting decision in choosing his subject matter for his third novel. Instead of taking the "easy" route and returning to a fantasy setting, he steps into the real world, choosing a difficult premise, and delivers his best story yet.
While his first two books showed off his ability to handle large casts of distinctive characters and their overlapping stories, he flips the script here by focusing on two characters, both of whom house large and distinctive casts IN THEIR HEADS.
Describing the plot doesn't do the book justice as, like any worthwhile journey, half the pleasure is in getting there, and this book is a rare pleasure, indeed. In the end, Andy Gage and Penny Driver will be two people whose lives stick with you long after you reluctantly put the book down.
Matt Ruff has done it again!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
"Set This House In Order" is Matt Ruff's finest work of fiction to date, brilliantly adding to a splendid body of work that includes such classics as his literary debut "Fool On The Hill" and the Ayn Rand-influenced cyberpunk novel "Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy". He offers a fascinating twist on the coming-of-age tale, exploring the lives of the multiple personalities inhabiting the bodies of Andrew Gage and Penny Driver. Like Jonathan Lethem in "Motherless Brooklyn", Ruff writes eloquently and with much compassion about two characters afflicted with a severe personality disorder. None of his splendid prose lapses into cliche or melodramatic writing. It's one of the few books I have read lately that I found almost impossible to put down, compelled to read vast portions of the novel at one clip. Without a doubt, Matt Ruff has become the most distinguished writer ever to have graduated from New York City's prestigious Stuyvesant High School. He is also among my generation's most talented writers, comparable in quality to the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Jeffrey Eugenides and Michael Chabon.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This isn't like talking to yourself. Or arguing with yourself. This is like reading a movie script, with a cast of dozens played by two people. And it is unbelievably, compulsively readable.
I'm a librarian, and read over 200 books a year. This is the first book in a very long time which I recommended to co-workers. I cared about the main characters, Andrew and Penny, but also became familiar enough with the secondary characters to miss them when I finished the book. I found Ruff's portrayal of 2 characters with MPD, and the manner in which they and their personalities interacted with each other and the rest of the world, both fascinating and utterly believable.
If you're looking for something outside of the mainstream regurgitated fluff (which never asks you to think), but also for something compelling, this is definitely worth the read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Knowing (and admiring) Matt from his last two books, I was very much looking forward to read more "simply crazily entertaining stuff". Now, I was more than positively surpised, Matt not only kept his humor, but also mixed it with psychotherapy and neurology to write a romance, a journey, a novel that is beyond description.
I dare not to write more about the content, because it would simply spoil the surprise. This book is what I call a STRONG BUY.
Bravo Matt, looking again forward for the next evolution step in romance-fiction.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Matt Ruff's delightful new novel, Set This House In Order, has been well worth the wait. His brilliant ear for dialogue and great sense of humor carries the reader through a sometimes emotionally harrowing set of circumstances. While the book focuses on multiple personality disorder, the characters are portrayed as fully human, multi-dimensional (sorry!) individuals. Ruff beautifully captures both the humor and the pathos inherent in this sort of disorder. Beyond the characterization, the novel is wonderfully well-plotted, suspenseful and full of twists and turns as we learn more about the lives and the pasts of the main characters. Once I started it, I stayed up all night reading it. Another great work from Matt Ruff.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like "The Fool on the Hill" and "Sewer, Gas & Electric", this story is very imaginative, has a lot of twists and turns in the plot, and keeps you turning the pages. Missing from this book however is the wackiness that permiated those other stories. Instead, the narrative in this story is edgy and a bit dark - largely due to the subject matter - two people with multiple personalities trying to come to grips with the childhood abuse that created their psychological problems. That said, the story is interesting and Ruff's portrayal of the various personalities inside each character's head is done in a very creative, fascinating - and non-confusing style.
I highly recommend the book, but given the excellent way in that Ruff established seperate storylines that take place both in and outside the characters' heads I would have liked to have seen Ruff explore the more comic possibilities of the situations rather than focus on the dark backdrop of childhood abuse, which rendered the story darkly creative instead of comically creative - definitely worth reading, however!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book was on several "Best Books of 2004" lists. I started it in December of 2005 and couldn't get into it, then picked it up again in August to give it another go. It got rave reviews on Amazon. I have mixed feelings about it. While I'd give it five stars for concept, the writing bothered me quite a bit.

The part-time narrator, Andrew, has a multiple personality disorder. Like many MPDs, these multiple personalities (souls) have been created as a defense mechanism to shield him from traumatic childhood memories. To give order to his disorder, with the help of a therapist, he has constructed in his mind a house where the souls can all live in peace. It's a well-run community until he meets another MPD, Penny, who doesn't have such control over her multi-faceted psychology. While Andrew does his best to help Penny come to terms with her own situation, circumstances conspire to bring his own house tumbling down and stir up the painful memories that led to his multiple personality disorder in the first place.

The concept of the book is fantastic. The architecture of the mental house and the way it works are wonderfully imaginative. And the way the characters work together to weave the story is fantastic. Dozens of distinct characters are housed in two bodies, and as the story gets rolling, it's character chaos--you never know which soul is going to take over either body next. The narrative often stops suddenly, mid-sentence, because the narrator has been pushed out by another of the souls. This leaves large gaps in the story that are filled in later from a different perspective. It's a really interesting technique. I wish Ruff had pushed it further and used it more.

Now for the bad stuff. The dialogue, I thought, is particularly bad, with too many "Um"s "Well..."s and "Huh?"s--unnecessary filler. There are some odd choices of what to cover in scene vs what to cover with simple exposition, too much over-explanation, and a lot that could have benefited from another editing pass. As for the plot, I thought it had potential but devolved into a sort of Scooby-Doo-esque mystery at the end, with a lot of explaining that wraps everything up very nicely. The resolution, some fairly hokey plot twists, and lackluster dialogue really weigh down what could have been a fantastic book.
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