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When to Go into the Water: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In discrete, delightfully composed vignettes, Sutin, a biographer of Aleister Crowley and Philip K. Dick, tells the rags-to-riches story of a French peasant farmer. Born in 1900 on a farm in eastern France, Hector de Saint-Aureole, the humble protagonist of this clever pseudobiography, gravitates first to Paris, where he works as a renderer in an abattoir, then to London, where he becomes a barman in Bloomsbury. Luck strikes the young man in the form of a friendship with a Scotsman who dies and leaves Hector his considerable estate: a fortune to assure a lifetime of ease and choice. Hector sets out to explore the world, determined to leave a record of his passage, which takes the shape of his life's opus, When to Go into the Water. Sutin alternates this factual-sounding narrative of Hector's journeys with more contemporary dispatches about readers who have over the decades come upon Hector's work, e.g., a fading male movie star of the 1990s. It's fascinating to watch Sutin turn his biographer's wiles toward fiction, and the result is charmingly original and intelligent. (May)
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From Booklist

This slim novella is labeled experimental fiction, but never fear. Although it proceeds in long paragraphs instead of chapters, illustrated by six peculiar photos and a Hindu prayer card, it is, except for the paragraph in which the hero is lost in the woods, quite accessible and drolly absorbing. It relates the life of Hector de Saint-Aureole (1900–67) and tidbits about the readers of Hector’s book When to Go into the Water, one of whom is a movie star of declining fortunes who marries Hector’s daughter in 1999. Born poor in rural northern France, Hector is dowsed with cold water by his father after World War I and dispatched to fend for himself. Bright enough but hardly enterprising, he is left a prodigious fortune by a patron of the bar he tends and thereafter travels incessantly. He is visited by two deities over the years, falls in unrequited love twice, and at 50 takes up with a 30-year-old Irishwoman. Each paragraph of his and his readers’ devastatingly tangential travails glows with mild, wacky beauty. Delicious. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 132 pages
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books (June 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932511725
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932511727
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,008,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By HungryMind on June 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Charming" is rarely a word I use to describe anything I like - and yet I found myself thoroughly charmed by Lawrence Sutin's brief but fascinating novel - charmed, in the sense of being transported, taken out of myself to another realm of the imagination. He creates a fascinating character in the person of novelist Hector de Sainte-Aureole (Saint Aureole: the patron saint of sunspots?) and makes his life into a trip worth taking - with side excursions into the unexpected ripples caused by his one and only book. Sutin's sheer joy in language is infectious and his story is like a series of surprising treasure boxes, each yielding an unexpected delight.
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By Scuttle Fische on June 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
Ever just marvel at the confidence of GG Marquez as he tells you one unbelievable thing after another, from another universe that flows into and out of our own (see '100 years of solitude')? This book has that kind of feel. Sutin is poised here as he recounts the amazing, profane, glorious and almost unbelievable life story of one Hector Saint-Aureole, born French but soon become wanderer, lover, philanthropist, in short, a citizen of the world.

'Poised' is perhaps too mild a word to describe the way this tale is delivered. Masterful is a little closer, as does simply 'solid.' Sutin seems to know his protagonist as if he'd lived the life himself, a concept he plays with in the title, as Hector, travelling from one sour adventure to the next, sustains his spirits by spending long nights working on a book called "When to Go Into the Water."

There is a certain firmness necessary to deliver any sort of fictitious narrative. The ante is upped when the reader is told things that simply do not happen in our world, at least in any obviously acknowledged way. Although there is little, if any out and out Magical Realism here, there is a logic to the unfolding of the events in Hector's life that follows a kind of cosmic illogic, an unfolding of fate but as if it were reeled off by a child and not God himself. The sure-footed narrative helps us believe in the likely and the unlikely things that cross Hector's path.

This is a short book, around 120 pages. A lot happens in this compact narrative, however. Chapters that were 2 pages long contained the events, the realizations made by the characters, the impacts on their lives of similar passages in longer novels. What is not lingered on here is the minute description of each episode.
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