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The Great Night: A Novel Hardcover – April 26, 2011

3.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Adrian is such a forceful, potent writer that this non-realistic world commands its own searing, tangible realism on the page. For this isn't only a novel about magic and faeries, it's a novel about grief and loss and heartbreak . . . If you're willing to enter something magical, something dazzling and heartbreaking, then Adrian is a writer for you.” — Patrick Ness, The Guardian
“. . . An enthralling nightmare. . . With the lusty, darkly comic finish comes an urge to wash one’s hands while applauding; Adrian has twisted a romantic folly into a incredibly depraved orgy. Those who don’t see the smut in Shakespeare might be shocked, but the Bard himself would likely be proud to see the bodily fluids spilled across one of his most beloved classics.”— Josh Davis, Time Out New York
“Chris Adrian’s novels puff you full of delight, then rips your heart out. Adrian's a sadist, maybe. Or maybe he's got the biggest heart of any living writer, so big that it can hold the sweetest thoughts alongside shame and also death — real death, in all its devastation and splendor.”—Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Phoenix

“Magical. . . Adrian. . . uses Shakespeare’s comedy not for a virtuosic display of stylistic mimicry but as a vessel to help him access and contain the amazingly bountiful, sparkling ‘jewels from the deep’ (as the Bard called them) of his rich imagination.”—Heller McAlpin, National Public Radio

“A wild ride—I found [The Great Night] almost viscerally thrilling, especially the experience of moving through [Adrian’s] prose as it crackles and purrs . . . the most brilliant and profound reimagining in Adrian’s vision isn’t the way he magics the humans but the way he humanifies Shakespeare’s fairies . . . Reading The Great Night was an extraordinary experience. When I finished it, I started it over again.”—Alexandra Mullen, The Barnes and Noble Review

“Adrian has demonstrated a vast imagination in his earlier books, particularly The Children’s Hospital, a tale of doctors and patients and angels (yes, angels) in a post-apocalyptic hospital that has become the world’s new ark. He is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology and a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, and his work indeed suggests a profound interest in where life meets death and how we make sense of that great undiscovered country . . . The Great Night is no exception . . . Adrian once again left me feeling both meditative and moved.”—Chris Bohjalian, The Boston Globe

“Himself a pediatric oncologist, Adrian has always written with depth and compassion about grief, but I can’t recall anything in his two prior novels or collection of stories that matches that chapters in [The Great Night] describing what it’s like to be a mother experiencing the loss of a child . . . Rather than Pyramus and Thisbe, we’re treated to a musical version of “Soylent Green,” the 1973 dystopian thriller starring Charlton Heston, in which there isn’t enough to eat, and the Soylent Corp. makes its money by secretly turning people into food. The humor is—well—delicious. But it also makes a joyous, life-affirming point, echoing Shakespeare’s own insistence that lovers must eventually return to everyday life in Athens.”—Mike Fischer, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“[Adrian] can pack more depth of understanding about what makes a human human into a single page than many novelists wedge into entire books. More than perhaps any author today, he understands people. His characters, whether men or pixies, are us . . . In fact, the scariest and most surprising thing about The Great Night is that it’s proof that some lives and conditions and heartbreaks and losses and joys are so bewildering, they can only be understood as myths.”—Tyler Cabot, Esquire
“Adrian. . . covered smaller, more controlled canvases in his previous works—Gob’s Grief and The Children’s Hospital, and the story collection A Better Angel. The Great Night—by turns brilliant, cruel, tenderhearted, visionary, poetic, and profane—is Adrian’s ambitious attempt to fetch from his own imagination what Shakespeare referred to as ‘jewels from the deep.’”—Lisa Shea, Elle
“William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream deals with illusion—in particular, the illusion that things can be set aright, as if by magic. This riff by New Yorker 20 Under 40 author Adrian (A Better Angel) is a whole lot darker, declaring that no magic can take away the memory of suffering and that in our self-serving scramble we disdain the pain (and indeed the goodness) of others. On the summer solstice in San Francisco, the fairies come out from under their hill in Buena Vista Park to celebrate Great Night. But this year there will be no celebration, for Oberon has vanished and Titania is thoroughly undone by the death of her Boy, one of the many changelings brought to her by Puck--no mischievous sprite but a malevolent spirit. Even as a rowdy bunch rehearse a play aimed at exposing the mayor's crimes against the homeless, three people are trapped in the park by the fairies’ madness: uptight Molly, lovesick Will, and gentle, obsessed Henry, who still misses decamped lover Bobby and whose tragic past and connections to other characters unfold tantalizingly. Verdict: Inventive and scarily beautiful, this could wipe out casual readers, but it is an extraordinary novel.”—Library Journal (starred review)


About the Author

Chris Adrian is the author of Gob’s Grief, The Children’s Hospital, and A Better Angel. Selected by The New Yorker as one of their “20 Under 40,” he lives in San Francisco, where he is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374166412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374166410
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It feels like there's been a lot of critical hoopla about this book on both sides of the Atlantic. I'm not altogether sure why.
As a literary mash up it's fun - but there are too many times when the book feels like Armistead Maupin meets Lewis Carroll meets Tony Kushner with a smattering of Dickens and Oliver Twist thrown on top. The digressions digress. And the central narrative isn't that interesting. And the all too knowing San Francisco references grate fast (nothing dates faster than knowingness).
Chris Adrian is at his best (as he was in The Children's Hospital) when he sticks most truly to what he knows all too well from real life - the unwonted miseries and love-in-pain that marks out lives that have done nothing to deserve it. But he doesn't do whimsy well and the fantasy sections drag. This might have been a great novella - maybe two - but not a novel.
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Format: Hardcover
I've said before on this blog that there are often gaps between how good something is and how much I enjoy it. Usually this means that I find great pleasure reading something without particularly high technical merit. In this case, I think it's the opposite. I can appreciate that this is, for a certain literary set, well-written. I'm just not as fond of it as I might be.

'The Great Night' is a modernised retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco in 2008. A group of humans stumble into a disaster implemented by the Faery Queen, Titania, who is in the throes of deep sorrow. Following the death of their latest changeling child, Titania and Oberon had one of their marital spats -- but this time, Oberon doesn't seem to be coming back. Desperate to get the King to show himself and so absorbed with her grief that she loses all sensibility, Titania lifts the controlling enchantment off of Puck, also known as the Beast, freeing him to wreak havoc in the park. (The greater world is protected by walls of air -- nothing, mundane or fantastical, gets in our out of the park while those walls, presumably conjured by Oberon, are up). The mortals trapped within are: Molly, recovering from the suicide of her boyfriend; Will, in love with a strange woman who dumped him a year ago; Henry, who can't remember any of his life before the age of thirteen, and whose obsessive-compulsive habits drove away his boyfriend; and a group of homeless people rehearsing for a musical version of Soylent Green, led by Huff, who believes the Mayor of San Francisco is feeding the indigent population to each other in the soup kitchens.
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Format: Hardcover
In this phantasmagorical tale, Chris Adrian reshaped "A Midsummer Night's Dream," into a mammoth, messy, tilted, erotic, meandering re-imagining of Shakespeare's comedy into an elaborate feast of faeries and monsters, Lilliputians and giants, demons and derelicts, heart-broken humans and a group of outspoken homeless people who are staging a musical reenactment of Soylent Green. And that is just a segment of the odd population of characters that you will meet in this multiple narrative tale of loss, love and exile. As you enter San Francisco's Buena Vista Park during this millennial summer solstice, the moon shines eerie and luminous over creatures large and small, and a thick wall of fog sluggishly spreads its fingers during the celebration known to the faerie kingdom as the "Great Night."

Adrian's fantasy adventure expands on his short story, "A Tiny Feast," centering on King Oberon and the ruthless Queen Titania and their changeling son, Boy, who suffered from leukemia. At the start of this novel, Titania is inconsolable after the death of Boy and the subsequent departure of Oberon. She unleashes a malevolent, ancient force of magic by removing the controlling constraints of Puck, thereby allowing his demonic urges to run rampant through the park.

Meanwhile, three heartbroken people with sorrowful memories of forsaken loved ones are lost and trapped in the park on their way to a summer solstice party. The tangled back stories unleash the bitter coils of pain and loss, and the mortals and immortals eventually interlock with loose springs.
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Format: Hardcover
My brief take on Chris Adrian's The Great Night is that you should save your time.

The book has a really interesting concept (retelling A Midsummer Night's Dream set in modern-day San Francisco), but the actual story falls flat. It's hard to one-up Shakespeare, and Adrian didn't manage it. The plots don't overlap well, the characters aren't all that compelling (and they don't grow), and the ending left me wanting more--but not in a good way. I didn't feel like the story had resolved. Shakespeare doesn't leave you feeling like the story's not over; Adrian does.
A Midsummer Night's Dream has three main plots: The Wedding, The Play, and The Dream. The Great Night has a two plots attempting to be three, but they don't mesh. Even as I read, I lost track of the different plots and characters, they were so disconnected. I'll try to keep track of the threads here.

The story takes place in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco on Midsummer Eve 2008.

First the humans. Molly is mourning the death-by-suicide of her boyfriend. Will has been dumped by his girlfriend, whose brother (Molly's boyfriend) committed suicide. Henry is a doctor with OCD and a mysterious past. Seriously mysterious: a chunk of his childhood is a black hole in his memory. Henry has also recently broken up with his boyfriend. See the theme? They're all lovelorn. Then we have a group of homeless people (who are supposed to parallel the "rude mechanicals" of Shakespeare's version) who, on coming to the "realization" that the mayor is feeding homeless people to the homeless people, decide to stage a musical version of Soylent Green in protest to this forced cannibalism.

Meanwhile, we have the fairy element of the story: Titania, her fairy followers, Puck and, in absentia, Oberon.
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