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The Canal Paperback – June 15, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554011
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,987,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Finding himself more drawn to a drab stretch of London canal than to his boring job, the unnamed narrator of this ambitious debut quits and begins to spend his days cultivating a zen state immune to boredom's pernicious possibilities. He meets a woman who has succumbed to those possibilities, and over soon learns of the terrible effect that can come from submitting. Rourke skates over the potential pitfalls of a novel crafted around boredom: descriptions of hours spent staring at a building alternate effectively with emotionally charged, mysterious drama. From his disengaged protagonist to the heinous actions of the woman he becomes obsessed with, Rourke evokes a more systemic emptiness, of which boredom is but a symptom: a post 9-11 nihilistic alienation from meaning. The characters themselves are flatter for this, and seem mechanized by some philosophic endgame rather than genuine psychology. Accepted as such, though, and seen in the context of their realistically-detailed environment--aimlessly vicious teenaged gangs, marching gentrification, and omnipresent technology--they are telling emblems of a modern condition: adrift, bleak yet gentle, and terribly vulnerable to the amoral march of time. (June) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

British writer (Everyday, 2007) Rourke's charming debut novel unflinchingly tackles a subject many more experienced writers might balk at: boredom. The unnamed narrator not only admits his life is a drag; he embraces banality. Finally disgusted by his inane office job, he quits and spends every morning on a bench along a London canal. There he watches waterfowl in the park and aircraft above, dredgers cleaning the water and commuters headed to and from their deathtrap jobs, and a man in an office in a building across the canal. When a mysterious young woman begins to join him on the bench, recounting strange stories and confessing lies, and a gang of thugs begins to pester him, the narrator questions the meaning of love, violence, and nature, especially after discovering that the woman has some connection with the worker across the way. A meditation on boredom's propensity to both inspire inner peace and instigate acts of terrorism, Rourke's surprisingly entertaining tale will keep readers glued to their seats. --Jonathan Fullmer

More About the Author

Lee Rourke is the author of the short story collection Everyday [Social Disease Books]. He is also one of England's leading young literary critics, writing regularly for The Guardian, The Independent, TLS and the New Statesman, as well as leading book blogs such as RSB []. He is Contributing Editor at 3:AM Magazine [] and also blogs at Sponge! [] He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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This book grabbed me from the very beginning.
Book Babe
14 times in a row--i can't imagine that happening in real life or on stage without someone slapping her after 3 or 4).
Derek White
Dark, poignant and evocative, The Canal is a terrific short novel set in London.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Derek White on November 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
From a longer post on my 5cense blog:

If you stop to consider anything long enough, even boredom, you should be able to find interesting connections lurking beneath the otherwise banal surface. «When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you,» or whatever it was that Nietzsche said. Thing is, Rourke gives up staring into the canal after the first few pages. Stuff happens in the book & he loses sight of the initial boring premise. Which perhaps is the point--if you embrace boredom, stuff will happen. Boredom is only boredom if you are afraid of being bored. And boredom is in the eyes of the beholder. This claim that the novel is about boredom allows Rourke to deflect all criticism because he could just say that was his intent. Yes, it's a novel. It says so on the cover. I don't understand why sometimes novels need to declare themselves as such--is it to keep people from confusing it for something else? The book is published by Melville House, known to me primarily as Tao Lin's publisher. And I guess there's some similarities with Tao, as well as with Shane Jones, who blurbed the book. The book was short-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize, which is no surprise considering Rourke writes for The Guardian.

It's the kind of book you'd expect a book critic to write. He's obviously well-read & connected & able to draw on a lot of writer's before him. Besides the comparison to Beckett, at first i felt like it was being set up like Crime & Punishment. And there's the obvious nod to Tom McCarthy, though to compare the two belittles McCarthy.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Erin Satie VINE VOICE on December 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
One way to look at The Canal is: It's awful. And this might be the right way to look at The Canal, because in some ways it really is awful. It's a book about a dullish jerkhole who quits his job to indulge in juvenile philosophizing and also pursue a woman who repeatedly tells him that she is not interested.

But there are other ways to view this novel that are potentially interesting.

For example: The Canal is a very boring novel about boredom. And that's perfect, isn't it? You are forced, by reading the book, to experience the very sensation the protagonist meditates upon so dully (Here is a typical yawner: "It is obvious to me now that most acts of violence are caused by those who are truly bored. And as our world becomes increasingly boring, as the future progresses into a quagmire of nothingness, our world will become increasingly more violent.").

The Canal might be about boredom as receptiveness, as a passive acceptance of chance and chance events. A few other reviews have commented on the fact that, though the book purports to be about boredom, soon after it starts things start happening. But these events never hook the characters into an actual story; there is repetition, but no development. Characters remain like icebergs, submerged and isolated. The narrator, in particular, is determined to be bored, which also means unengaged.

But Rourke also uses his premise as an excuse. He portrays the narrator as an excruciatingly shallow personality who acts without discernable motivation. Much of the book revolves around his obsession with a woman to whom he's only marginally attracted.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amy Henry TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
Flat-screen monitors, an old park bench, the "Park Crew", suicide bombers, swans, an Airbus A320, an Audi TT 225, an unknown woman at a funeral, boredom...

All of these things factor together to make The Canal by Lee Rourke a fascinating glimpse into boredom. How can boredom be interesting? Don't we avoid it? The unnamed narrator has left his job, spending his days ruminating on life on an old bench near a canal in downtown London. It's not the most scenic location: dirty water, a roving gang, commuters, and the occasional coot or swan may pass nearby, but no one seems to sit. Until him.

As he sits, he imagines the lives of the people who, quite literally, cross his path and he reflects on his own experiences. Having the freedom to just sit is something he's not used to: "it's the power of everyday boredom that compels people to do things-even if that something is nothing." He notices that all the efforts to avoid boredom, usually in order to be more productive or to entertain, never really accomplish anything. It is 'found' time, an appreciation for not filling every moment, that makes time more meaningful for him. And this he does, spending more and more time at the canal. It is only after the pace of his life has slowed that the really exciting and life-changing events begin to happen. But this is no new-age inspirational story. What he discovers are terrible crimes and intentional cruelties, all tied together by acts done out of boredom.

"I've often thought that we seek reality in places and not in ourselves....We need things, extra things that help us to make sense of it all; we need the space where things can happen, where these spaces become a thing-it is only at that point, when space becomes a thing to us, that we truly feel real.
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