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When the World Was Steady [Kindle Edition]

Claire Messud
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $5.96 (37%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In this highly acclaimed novel by the author of The Emperor’s Children, life isn’t all Emmy and Virginia Simpson might have hoped. When Emmy’s marriage to an Australian man ends, she flees her home in Sydney for the tropical paradise of Bali to “find herself”—only to become embroiled with an eclectic crew of international misfits and smugglers. Her sister Virginia, meanwhile, has never wandered far outside of London. Prim and pious, Virginia is struggling to find meaning in her life and her aging mother thinks a visit to the Isle of Skye is just what she needs. On these two islands halfway around the world, the middle-aged sisters confront their lives and their destinies with unexpected consequences.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs. 

Editorial Reviews Review

In a debut novel of remarkable breadth and intimate insight, Claire Messud tells the story of two middle-aged sisters and the divergent life paths chosen by each. On Bali and Skye, two islands as far apart as geography allows, the sisters reassess their place in the world and gingerly find the new bearings that will allow them to renegotiate the circumstances of their lives with newfound acceptance and flexibility. Nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

From Publishers Weekly

Two estranged sisters, their worlds turned upside-down, pursue separate quests for identity on exotic islands before being reunited in Messud's wonderfully observant debut novel. Emmy Simpson left London in 1960 at age 20 to marry a dashing Australian publisher. Twenty-seven years later, divorced (dumped by her husband for her friend) and at odds with her rebellious daughter Portia, a sculptor, she exits Sydney for the Indonesian isle of Bali. There, her credo that we create our destiny is sorely tested as she falls in with a group of exiles, misfits, long-haired idealists and eager young women dominated by a sleazy transplanted Australian antiques smuggler. Meanwhile, Emmy's prim, evangelical sister Virginia, who lives in London and cares for their invalid, eccentric, death-obsessed mother, is ordered to take a leave of absence by her married boss?on whom she has a mad crush. Her faith wavering, Virginia joins her mother on a trip to the isle of Skye in the Hebrides, accompanied by Nikhil Gupta, an Indian student, searching for his runaway sister, who eloped with a Scot. Shuttling among Sydney, London, Bali and Skye, the American-born Messud, who lives in London, weaves a beautiful, bittersweet story about the painful cost of self-knowledge and the unpredictability of life.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 976 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009I7D60C
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 14, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IEH8FS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,931 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Islands June 21, 2007
Chapter by chapter, I found myself enjoying this book immensely, so completely does Claire Messud penetrate the lives of her characters and the settings in which they find themselves. It was only at the end that I began to question the world view that holds the book together; I only wish it were more positive.

The book divides its focus between two middle-aged sisters, Londoners, now at opposite sides of the world. Emmy, purposeless after divorce from her rich Australian husband of many years, goes off on a whim to Bali. Her elder sister Virginia has remained in London to look after her aging mother; stuck in a dead-end job and painfully shy, her only social outlet is in church work and Bible study. Halfway through the book, at her mother's insistence, she accompanies her to the Isle of Skye. So two islands, as different as could be. Messud avoids the tourist areas of each; her descriptions of the third-world uplands of the Pacific island (which I don't know) and the rain-swept coast of the Atlantic one (which I do) are simultaneously convincing and surprising. The experiences of the two sisters are different too: Emmy falls in with a colorful group of polyglot expatriates; Virginia and her mother shiver in a tiny boarding house on a gray harbor where everything closes hours before bedtime.

Two islands, two women, once close as sisters now widely separated. Two people isolated from the familiar things in their lives. It is almost as though Messud is questioning John Donne's dictum "No man is an island," or challenging EM Forster's motto "Only connect." Throughout the book, and not just in these two characters, there are examples of people reaching out from their isolation in an attempt to connect, to make friends, recover loss.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some people adrift in middle age September 20, 2008
This is a book that charts the path of two sisters, both adrift in middle age, as they seek to reassess their future. As young people in their 20s, the two sisters (Virginia and Emmy) make very different choices. Emmy marries and moves to Sydney, while Virginia stays near home. It is their identity that most contrast. Virginia is both dutiful and Christian, while Emmy is largely self-absorbed. It is not just that she leaves her family. She even loses her marriage. The book begins with Emmy seeking to find herself in Bali.

What interested me most about this book was the way that each sister seemed to be searching for the life that the other one had chosen, although their actions were unknown to each other. When Emmy goes to Bali, she does so out of a sense that the spirituality of the island holds an answer for her. When Virginia has a crisis, she realizes that she is more alone than she had thought.

This book's settings are so distinct from each other. For the longest time, they exist without any reference. I really enjoyed Virginia's story more, if only because she was wrestling with questions that appear more relevant. The mother lends a lot of excitement for a while. In fact, for a section, she carries the book.

This would be an excellent book for a book club. It has a lot to offer for a discussion about commitment, as well as about faith.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.9 stars October 15, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book and it is amazing that it is a first novel. It has a decidedly unusual structure and subject but is flawlessly pulled off. The scenes from London and Skye recreate a very English (in no other country could this occur) claustrophobic mother/daughter relationship. You get lost in this book and find yourself looking up after 10 pages or so realizing, with a jolt, that the characters aren't real and you are just reading a book. I give it 4.9 because the ending is a tiny bit weak, but don't let that put you off this book -- a fine work and a most enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steady but Not Spectacular February 4, 2008
There is a blurb from the New York Times on the front of 'When the World Was Steady' that states, "Claire Messud is a novelist of unnerving talent". This quote is the most accurate description of Ms. Messud's work that I can think of. Her prose is lyrical and gorgeous. However, this novel failed to engross me in the same way 'The Emperor's Children' did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And the point is? July 5, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The women in this book are each on their own quest, which turn out to be unrealistic, imagined goals. Spoiler alert..none of them reaches their goal, nor do they seem to learn anything.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars When the World was Steady December 1, 1999
By A Customer
Initially the book captivated me with its wonderful descriptions. I was transported to Bali and London and caught up in the conflict of the two sisters. Through this the author provided such potential for a riviting plot I eagerly read on, only to be disappointed. The characters were left out to dry. The resolution to their conflicts was anti-climatic, and the decriptive language which originally had painted such vivid pictures became what seemed to be an over use of the author's thesaurus.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect, Beautiful Tale January 17, 2000
This is one of my favorite books. I read it a couple of years ago and I have re-read it many times since. The story Messud weaves, is untouchable in its excellence, both as a great work of literature and as a personal piece about the simplicity of life. A book well worth reading!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great . . . July 4, 2013
A good read, but not nearly as good as The Emperor's Children. Of course, When the World was Steady was an earlier work of Messud's, but for me, it needed more consistency. I did enjoy the cultural exposure of to Mali, and also of Scotland (to the extent they were discussed), but I did not feel the empathy for the characters that Emperor's invoked. Still, it was worthy of my time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Bourgeois struggles
The novel was very well written however it was sort of in the genre of Mme Bovary and Thérèse Desqueyroux where bourgeois women face the challenge of their existence... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Tricia G.
4.0 out of 5 stars Writing is terrific, characters, meh
Wonderful writer who works wonders with miserable characters and tells a great story. I'm going to stick with Messud and read all her books.
Published 15 months ago by Laurie Lucas
4.0 out of 5 stars Even older women have adventures
Emmy and Virginia Simpson have both come to disappointing places in their lives. Virginia, who stayed in London to care for her mother, is being edged out of her job and Emmy, who... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Naomi
5.0 out of 5 stars When the World Was Steady
Excellent! Diametrically opposed sisters in their fifties search for meaning in their lives. One heads to Bali; one goes to the Isle of Skye. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Bookbag
1.0 out of 5 stars Refuse to pay for this
Actually, I did not read this book. I downloaded the sample and within the first 10 pages found three typos. That is inexcusable to me. Read more
Published 18 months ago by S. McNicholas
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful
I read and enjoyed other books by this author, but I hated this one. There just didn't seem to be any point and no ending.
Published 18 months ago by Janet E. Irwin
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't understand the fuss!
So two middle-aged sisters grew apart (somehow; never explained), lived half a world away from one another, and lead completely different lives. Yeah? So? Read more
Published 18 months ago by Chey Cobb
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful story
The charachters are beautifully developed, setting wonderfully described, the author's style makes it hard to put the book down. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Margaret
5.0 out of 5 stars When The World Was Steady
This was an incredibly well-written book, carefully researched, and filled with rich details which invoked in the reader the feeling of having lived through WWII with the... Read more
Published on September 6, 2012 by Queen Reader
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