- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780156027403
- ISBN-13: 978-0156027403
- ASIN: 0156027402
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,519,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oxygen Reprint Edition
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"Lovely, striking, strange, evocative . . . There is not a page of this book that does not offer the reader exquisite . . . prose."--The Washington Post Book World
"A writer of verve and talent . . . [Miller's] prose is fluent, lucid and at times radiant."--The New York Times Book Review
"Poignant, probing, brainy fiction . . . enlivened by a sly, stoical wit that keeps cropping up where you least expect it."--Chicago Tribune
From the Back Cover
It is the summer and Alec Valentine is returning to England to care for his ailing mother, Alice. In San Francisco, his older brother Larry prepares to come home as well, preoccupied with an acting career that is sliding toward sleaze and a marriage that is faltering. In Paris, on the other hand, the Hungarian playwright Lászlo Lázár seems to have it all--critical acclaim, a loving boyfriend, and a close circle of friends--yet even he is haunted by guilt and tragedy. For each of them the time has come to assess the turns taken, the opportunities missed, and the advent of one last chance to break free from the past and find redemption.
Intimate, compelling and evocative of an extraordinary range of emotions and insights, Oxygen lives and breathes beyond the final page.
A Whitbread Award finalist
"Elegantly written . . . an exhilarating journey through personal histories and a knowing glimpse at the ways we hold ourselves responsible for saving the people we love." --People
"Poignant, probing...grounded in a vivid sense of place and character, and enlivened by a sly, stoical wit that keeps cropping up where you least expect it. A bold, bracing book." --The Chicago Tribune
"Lovely, striking, strange, evocative. " --The Washington Post Book World
Born in England in 1960, Andrew Miller has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland, and France. His first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the International IMPAC Award. He lives in London.
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Alice's elder son Larry, a handsome former tennis champion now living in the US, has starred in a TV series, now canceled. His alcohol and cocaine consumption have jumped, leaving him in financial straits, and his marriage is in trouble. By keeping his California life secret from Alice, Larry remains the apple of her eye. The least sensitive among the people at Brooklands, Larry wants to tell his mother that her vision of him is false - and the fact that he has sunk to a new low with his latest film project weighs heavily upon him.
Younger son Alec, a thin aesthete, works as a translator for Laszlo Lazar, a Hungarian playwright living in Paris who is working on a new play. At some point in the past, Alec has had a mini-breakdown, but despite his own problems and the pressure of his work, he has been attending his mother. Still desperate for Alice's praise, Alec has his mother's best interests at heart, but he is squeamish about illness and the details of dying, and is guilt-ridden because he cannot make himself attend to all her physical needs.
Laszlo Lazar, a Hungarian playwright living in Paris, fought during the Hungarian Freedom uprising and was the only one of his brigade to survive, but he feels guilty about a close friend whose death he blames on himself. Though he has no direct connection with Alice, he is dependent upon Alec for his play, and Alec is not in London working. His play, called Oxygene in French, provides a dominating image for the novel.
As the action rotates among these characters, they begin, individually, to look for ways to atone for their past failures. They all ache to be connected to a positive force which will give meaning to their lives (and, perhaps, end their nagging guilt about their failures), just as Alice improves when she is connected to oxygen. Laszlo's chance to atone for the past is particularly dramatic, and Alec's is life-changing.
Despite its complex, seemingly depressing subject, the novel is actually thrilling to read, in part because of Andrew Miller's skill as a novelist. One of the clearest, cleanest writers in the world today, Miller chooses exactly the right word to meld perfect images with universal themes in new ways. His characters feel real, and their behavior and internal crises feel "normal." Perhaps it is this reason that the book speeds along, despite its heavy subject matter. Every detail is necessary to the overall story, and every detail works. An elegant novel told simply. Mary Whipple
I am pleased to report that I was wrong.
Brothers Larry (moderately famous soap opera star gone to seed and trapped in a dying marriage with a klepto daughter who is, by all accounts, creepy in her emotionless demeanor) and Alec (the French translator who is perched on the edge of a life of tepid failures and regrets that mask themselves as hopes and dreams) find themselves forced to deal with the decline and inevitable demise of their mother, Alice, a strong-willed woman who is fighting a losing battle with cancer and the accompanying senility that comes with dying so messily.
This story is connected by a few thin (but strong threads) to the tale of the Hungarian playwrite, Lazar, who has a life that is successful, rich with meaning and love, and in all other ways, admirable. Still, of course, there is something missing -- something serious -- and it plagues Lazar with the same insinuating tenacity as the disease that plagues Alice (and, by proxy, her sons).
What makes this novel so remarkable (aside from Miller's ability to manipulate words in a manner that is as playful as it is revealing, as meaningful as it is masterful) is that whenever something solid and certain DOES happen -- something that could be called the undergirding of a crucial plot element -- it usually takes place either off screen or ambiguously. The firing of a gun, the taking of a pill, the indescretions of men and women: these are hinted at, heard from another room, suggested.
Miller doesn't just suggest events, he suggests reasons, he suggests outcomes, he suggests decisions. There are no easy answers in his book, and in place of predictable plot machinations or trite bits of drama, Miller gives us compellingly simple and real insights into the characters and how they view the various disintegrations of their respective worlds.
This is a return to true literature, I think, a lost art wherein the audience is not plied with the easy levers of emotive dialogue or overt symbolism. We are given what is there, and are left to make do with what we have. The endings to all four stories (Alice's, Larry's, Alec's, and Lazar's) are left open to interpretation. An optimist could probably see upswings all around, but it would be just as easy to argue that the stories are all bound to end sadly.
Either way isn't really the point, and that's the final and greatest thing about the novel. A true novel isn't really about what happens to the characters, it's about what the characters do and who they are. Miller seems to be suggesting a final and ultimate truth about humanity, that being that we are not our circumstances: we are how we respond to our circumstances. Viewed in that light, this book is truly a success, and the characters in it richer than the words used to describe them. They each end the novel taking deep breaths before stepping into the unknown.
If you're anything like me, you'll end the novel with the opposite: a sigh.