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Seven Types of Ambiguity Paperback – December 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By copping the title of William Empson's classic of literary criticism, Australian writer Perlman (Three Dollars) sets a high bar for himself, but he justifies his theft with a relentlessly driven story, told from seven perspectives, about the effects of the brief abduction of six-year-old Sam Geraghty by Simon Heywood, his mother Anna's ex-boyfriend. Charismatic, unemployed Simon is still obsessed with Anna nine years after their breakup—to the dismay of his present lover, Angelique, a prostitute. Anna's stockbroker husband, Joe, is one of Angelique's regulars, which feeds Simon's flame. When Angelique turns Simon in to the cops, he claims he had permission to pick Sam up; his fate hinges on whether Anna will back up his lie. Most of the perspectives are linked to Simon's shrink, Alex Klima, who writes to Anna and counsels Simon, Angelique and Joe's co-worker, Dennis. The most successful voices belong to Joe, who's spent his career on the edge of panic, and Dennis, whose bitter rants provide a corrective to Klima's unctuous psychological omniscience. Perlman, a lawyer, aims for a literary legal novel—think Grisham by way of Franzen—and the ambition is admirable though the product somewhat uneven. Simon's obsessions, his self-righteousness and his psychological blackmail, give him a perhaps unintended creepiness, and the novel, as big and juicy as it is, may not offer sufficient closure.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Cheekily swiping the title of William Empson's seminal work of literary criticism, this second novel by Perlman, an Australian writer, presents seven first-person narrators—whose lives are all nudged off course by a man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son—in a compulsively readable tangle. At the center is a psychiatrist who treats several of the characters, and whose narrative provides some basis for assessing the partial perspectives of the six others. The abductor's self-justifying rants about truth, literature, and poststructuralist theory win over his shrink and, it seems, everyone else. Still, if the individual stories of these characters are compelling, their attempts at Empsonian hermeneutics are less so.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (December 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594481431
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594481437
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #506,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Brett Benner VINE VOICE on February 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think the last time I was so impressed with a novel was when I read David Mitchell's "Ghostwritten". This was published at the very end of 2004 and for me it's the best of last year and probably this year as well. Billed as "an epic novel about obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialsim", the basic thrust of the story is about a man who never having gotten over a woman who left him ten years before, kidnaps her son.

The brilliance of the novel is in it's construction. The book is segmented in seven parts, each narrated by a different player in the unfolding drama with sections and scenes overlapping in a 'Rashomon' like narrative. The only criticism I have with the book echos other reviewers, that many of the characters voices are similar. They all seem cut from the same Mensa cloth,being incredibly insightful,bright,and in tune with the human condition regardless of age, sex, or social standing.However as criticisms go, it's a small one, and one that doesn't detract from the awesome magnitude or scope of what I think is a phenomenal piece of literature.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every now and then, a novel comes along that is so masterful, so breathtaking in scope, that everything you read afterwards pales in comparison. This is such a book.

The author employs seven narrators, all of whom ultimately impact each others' lives. Each character is fleshed out so that the reader knows him or her through and through...right down to interior thoughts. One can only imagine the research Mr. Perlman had to go through to "get it right" -- from investment banking to gambling...from prostitution to literary matters...from psychiatry to research analyst. If there is a false note in any of these narratives, I wasn't able to detect it.

The novel, seemingly, is about the trial of Simon, an unemployed teacher who, in a fit of obsessive love, kidnaps the son of Anna, the woman he has worshiped for many years. In reality, each character in this novel is going through his or her own trial. Each will end up in a different place than when the narration began. Each will go through the harshest judge of all -- himself or herself; some will make it, some will not.

There is, indeed, ambiguity in literature, as there is in relationships and life in general. This novel can be read as a pure page-turner or it can be read for deeper meaning. I closed the book understanding a little more about myself. It is a rare book that allows the reader to do that.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on January 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This daring and intriguing novel was my favorite of 2004. Australian author Elliot Perlman has chosen to tell his story from seven different points of view-not a new idea, but one that seems completely fresh and surprising in Perlman's hands. The characters he chooses as his narrators and the voices he gives them are what propels "Seven Types" ahead to an end that comes all too soon for the besotted reader. The publisher's tag line deeming this "an epic novel about obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialism" does not do it any sort of justice. This novel is about much more than that and should not be missed.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By L. Jonsson VINE VOICE on May 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book months ago, and I still think about its message every day. It is very difficult to catogorize as evidenced by the other book reviews. It is a love story, social commentary, extremely political novel that requires concentration when reading.

Only one person has given this book a bad review, and he has a good point. The different chapters that are different points of view are in the same writing style. However, I don't know if the author of that review really realizes how difficult writing in different styles is (ever try Faulkner? That is fun reading isn't it?) I feel that the author did this deliberately in order to depict his message in unconfusing ways. Yes, the characters do not talk as people do in real life. (That is why I read books, personally; I don't like the way people talk in real life). It is gothic in style and magnificent in its scope. I think it is one of the best books I have ever read.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By bowery boy on January 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
I went into Seven Types of Ambiguity with high hopes. A reviewer's blurb on the back called it The Alexandria Quartet for grown ups. Since The Alexandria Quartet is a huge favorite of my partner, I was very excited to read something comparable in one novel instead of four.

The meat of the story is fairly simple: for ten years Simon is infatuated with and silently stalking his ex-girlfriend Ana until one day he decides to kidnap her son. The problem is Ana is unhappily married to Joe who is regularly seeing a prostitute named Angelique who is living with Simon and is unrequitedly in love with him. This incident sets in motion events, suspicions, and emotions told from the perspective of seven different characters and how it dramatically effects all of them.

Sounds promising, right? And initially it is.

The first two sections are engrossing. You get to know the cast of characters. You're slowly made privy to what is going on. You're wondering what's going to happen next. Perlman is a good writer and you're pulled along the trajectory of his novel until suddenly you begin to notice that with each and every section the character's "voices" all sound the same. The uneducated prostitute sounds like the psychiatrist who sounds like the angry stockbroker who sounds like the ex-girlfriend ad infinitum ad nauseum. And, in all seriousness, who talks like these people? It's clear that Perlman is telling the story insteading of letting his characters do that for him.

After awhile, Perlman's writing gets so hamfisted, overbloated, and pseudo-intellectually esoteric that I was becoming annoyed. Very, very annoyed, not only with Perlman's writing but also with his characters.
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