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Noah's Compass Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 5, 2010

3.5 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Like Tyler's previous protagonists, Liam Pennywell is a man of unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means and curtailed ambition. At age 60, he's been fired from his teaching job at a second-rate private boys' school in Baltimore, a job below his academic training and original expectations. An unsentimental, noncontemplative survivor of two failed marriages and the emotionally detached father of three grown daughters, Liam is jolted into alarm after he's attacked in his apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover those lost hours leads him into an uneasy exploration of his disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age. She is also spontaneous and enthusiastic, and Liam longs to cast off his inertia and embrace the joyous recklessness that he feels in her company. Tyler's gift is to make the reader empathize with this flawed but decent man, and to marvel at how this determinedly low-key, plainspoken novelist achieves miracles of insight and understanding. (Jan.)
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Praise for Anne Tyler’s Noah’s Compass
“Everyone loves Anne Tyler . . . and her 18th novel will doubtless supply another reason.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
Noah’s Compass is immensely readable. It displays many of Tyler’s finest qualities: her sharp observation of humanity, her wry comedy; the luminous accuracy of her descriptions . . . Hers is a fine-grained art, whose comedy could easily coarsen into the self-consciously quirky. If it does not, this is because her surprises are rooted in character: it is human nature that she evidently finds infinitely fascinating and surprising, with its constantly unforeseeable capacity for change . . . [A] novel by Anne Tyler is cause for celebration.”
—Caroline Moore, The Sunday Telegraph
“Tyler reveals, with unobtrusive mastery, the disconcerting patchwork of comedy and pathos that marks all our lives.”
—Michael Dirda, The Wall Street Journal
“Dazzling . . . A beautifully subtle book, an elegant contemplation of what it means to be happy.”
—Elizabeth Day, The Observer, UK
“Fired from his job, Liam Pennywell moves into a small apartment and wakes up the next morning in the hospital with head injuries he can’t explain. What turns out to have been an attack by a thief leads to unexpected grace, as Liam is forced to engage more deeply with his family and with a woman who finds him irresistible.”
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“Pure pleasure”
—Helen W. Mallon, Philadelphia Inquirer

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272409
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Ettner on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I remember emerging from a New York City art museum, some years ago, after spending an hour looking at the artwork in a Richard Estes exhibition. Estes is a photo-realist painter of meticulously detailed urban scenes. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I noticed that storefronts, taxis, buses, office towers, the dome of the sky -- all looked different. I was seeing the world with new eyes, with more sharply focused vision -- an aftereffect of immersion in Estes' art. Most striking was a heightened awareness of the unique light that fills the streets of Manhattan. Everything was vivid.

A similar transformation occurs whenever I finish a new novel by Anne Tyler and return to the real world. Time spent with Tyler engenders new perceptions of the everyday physical environment. It also inspires a more generous understanding of human interactions, personal relationships, family dynamics.

"Noah's Compass" is among Tyler's least ambitious novels. Still, the book's pleasures are abundant, and the author is in full command of her craft. Some critics disparage Tyler as a play-it-safe miniaturist. They say she avoids grappling with the Big Themes of history and politics, existence and death. She's stuck in the quotidian. Yet even in this modest story, Tyler is not afraid to confront harrowing truths. The novel's protagonist, Liam Pennywell, observes: "We live such tangled, fraught lives . . . but in the end we die like all the other animals and we're buried in the ground and after a few more years we might as well not have existed." Could these words be a bone Tyler is throwing to ravenous critics? Probably not, as Tyler likely doesn't pay much attention to what others would prefer her to write about.
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Format: Hardcover
Noah didn't need a compass, a rudder or a sextant because he wasn't going anywhere; he just bobbed along trying to stay afloat. Liam Pennywell, the 60 year old narrator of Anne Tyler's latest novel, "Noah's Compass", has been getting by without a compass for years. Alone, unemployed, a little lonely, closed off, thinking his life is behind him, Liam has what we call a "life-changing experience". In fact, he has two of them; one is physical and the other metaphorically dangles in front of him his much needed "compass" ...if he'll only recognize it.

To open an Anne Tyler novel is to open yourself to care about her characters and "Noah's Compass" is no different. I fell in love with Liam Pennywell and Eunice Dunstead, (a "rememberer"). Even Tyler's less loving characters are appealing through their all-too-human faults. Liam's stern older sister, his brisk ex-wife, and his three daughters, are all endearing in their own way. One never wishes evil on a Tyler character because they all reflect back something of ourselves. Her characters are familiar, archetypal and "Tyler-esque"; in all her novels we see people who are stumbling around in the dark. They don't even grope for their identities and their life purposes, those things just seem to fall upon them like odds and ends off an attic shelf.

One quirky character (a redundant term in Anne Tyler's world!) misquotes: "Those that forget the past are doomed to regret the present." Eventually Liam does take some ownership of his past mistakes, but will he use the insight to change his present? Will Liam wake up from his malaise and start living a full life? Will he grab his last chance at love? Will his life change? Should it? Is contentment enough?

The worst thing about a new Anne Tyler novel is the wait for the next one. In the meantime, I'll re-read "Noah's Compass" and several other of my favorite Tyler novels and I'll love them as much as I ever did, and glean new insights from each.
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Format: Hardcover
A few odd things about this book.

First of all, the main character, Liam, is only 61 years old, but he acts like he is 80 and seem so out of touch with "life" that he's probably one of the weakest characters Tyler's ever created. There's really "nothing there" -- he has no emotion, no sense of self and so we care little about him.

He has 3 daughters, one of which is an angry religious fundamentalist. And for no reason, other then the one scene where her son has a coloring book.

The title refers to a scene with Liam and his grandson who is coloring a Bible coloring book of Noah's ark. "Noah's compass" is an observation the main character gives when the grandson asks how Noah directed the ark. There was no sail, etc--Noah's "compass" were the waves that moved the ark around. Like Liam, he is an ark that it tossed about by the waves of life.

In addition to the daughters, he has an ex-wife (he is also a widow) and each of the characters literally come and go into his life/this story. And for no reason whatsoever.

The premise of the book--which is dropped for some reason--is that Liam goes to sleep in bed and wakes up in a hospital. At some point, a burgler broke into his home and Laim was beaten unconscious. And he can't remember what happened.

And no one seems to really care about his loss of memory--also, it symbolizes his loss of a memorable life. But about half way through, this whole theme is dropped--like it never happens.

Liam begins a half-hearted, painfully dull romance with a woman that goes no where. His daughters and ex-wife reappear. One friend comes to dinner.

Things fall apart with some of these relationships. He visits his father and stepmother.

And then the book is over.
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