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The Song Is You: A Novel Hardcover – April 7, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: A man who's not quite young anymore, his relationship trouble, and his iPod: at first glance Arthur Phillips's The Song Is You sounds like strictly Nick Hornby territory, but it turns out to be a lot closer to The Red Shoes, a story of love and art in which the two are confused and jealously compete. And as in The Red Shoes, but so rarely in other works of art, it's the art-making that carries the most power and mystery. Julian Donahue is a "creative": a skilled director of commercials who has come to know his limits. Cait O'Dwyer is a singer, and a bit of a comet that Julian somehow catches the tail of. Their courtship--as Julian evades a marriage split by an unbearable loss and Cait shoots single-mindedly toward stardom--is an intricately constructed pas de deux that is both surprising and convincing throughout. It's Phillips's first novel set in the present since Prague, and in its artful structure, style, and heart it's a match for that smart and charming debut. --Tom Nissley

From The New Yorker

Phillips’s best writing achieves an elaborate, gratifying precision, combining a naturally flamboyant style with neat, observational wit. This quality is sharpest in some of the character portraits and delectable set pieces that animate this novel, his fourth, but the central plot is sometimes strained. A middle-aged advertising director, whose marriage has broken up following the death of his two-year-old son, plays an invisible and unlikely muse to a young Irish singer on the brink of stardom. As the two engage in an indirect seduction—they never meet—the narrative veers close to the “adolescent fantasy” that its protagonist fears. But this curious bond provides an armature for Phillips’s beautiful evocation of music’s consoling power to blur the borders between art, artist, and consumer.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066468
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066469
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,571,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arthur Phillips gave an interview to Amazon for this book and that interview found its way to my Kindle via the Amazon Storefront. In it, Phillips discusses his passion for the iPod and his feelings about music - how each song revives a memory, a moment, a relationship; how a record can make you feel as insecure as the rainy day after 9th grade when you heard it, or a song can make you shake in longing for the person who shares the memory of that song with you. Phillips was right, and as soon as he said this book took that approach and crafted a story about/around/inspired by it, I knew I had to read it.

Phillips gives his readers an honest, voyeuristic, captivating journey through the past, present, and future of Julian and the ones important to him. Phillips uses songs to shift through time and space fluidly from memory to memory, telling stories not in a chronological order but as randomly as the songs on his iPod appear that trigger the memories.

Julian finds a new musician, Cait, and follows her career from a lowly dive bar to an international tour. Along the way, he begins finding his attraction to her spread deeper and more thoughtfully, as he connects her lyrics to the moments in his life past and present. Cait's music and persona help him cope with his past regrets, deal with his present aimlessness, and his longing for...he doesn't quite know what, maybe just his longing to be longing over something.

Julian writes/draws out some feedback for Cait at a show and it gets around to her; from then on til the end, the relationship becomes something torn between friendship, romance, mentorship, mutual therapists, and philosophers.
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Format: Hardcover
I have mixed feelings about The Song Is You. I just finished and I don't really feel wowed nor satisfied. The story line is in one aspect frustrating, but in another very creepy - the stalking gets a little uncomfortable, though I think what Phillips is trying to achieve is for the reader to be undecided as to whether or not it's uncomfortable. For me, it was just creepy, so I couldn't really get on board with it. My main complaint, however, is that the whole book is given away in the prologue. Therefore, this story which should be suspenseful, isn't in the least.

However, though I'm not crazy about the story, I really love some of the prose and descriptions, though in some places it's too much. (A 250 page books feels like 500 sometimes, not really in a good way.) The 3rd omniscient works well here, and I enjoy the characters, who are all well-developed. My favorite passage is one description of Cait, from page 30:

"He especially loved how she handled the songs originally sung by men, how she sang the lyric straight (singer wants a girl) and then gleefully, evilly put it over as a blood-red lipstick-lesbian tune, or reversed the pronouns (singer wants a boy) and then she cold vary it, do it as a neurotic girl or raging girl or seductive girl or funny girl. The best, though, was when she kept a man's lyric the same but then somehow turned its meaning around, kept it in his words but put the whole thing in quotation marks, as if she were singing what a man had once sung to her and now she was only recalling it."

Overall, if you love music you may be interested in this, but be warned it's not really a love story. The end drops off too abruptly, and we never find out what happens to half the characters. I needed about 50 more pages at the end and 50 less at the beginning.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved this novel. I rarely write reviews here, but I wanted to for this book in the hope that if you're on the fence about buying this book, this review may be the slight nudge you need to buy it, read it, and love it like I did. And if you love music (of any kind), you would simply be remiss if you don't read this book.

The book begins with the premise that art - especially, music - can inspire nostalgia about people, events, places of the past. But, more specifically, music has the unique power to recall what exactly you were feeling while experiencing those events, people, places. Slowly, the book evolves into a comment on the muse / artist relationship. But as this idea is explored, the reader soon discovers the idea is that the novel is not just about the inspiration behind art - specifically, music - but also how art can assuage pain and hurt of even the saddest, most awful memories. The muse and artist relationship is symbiotic, complementary - but extraordinarily complicated.

What's truly great about this novel, though, is Phillips' writing. From the very first page, you trust him. He's funny, he's passionate, he's affecting. And he renders his characters and their relationships to each other in such real, faithful terms. Even at the times where the plot of the novel and the examination of the characters' thoughts - especially Julian's - begin to strain believability, he gently guides you back to a place where you have no trouble accepting that these are real, extraordinarily sane characters.

If I have one complaint about the novel at all, it's that the writing is a bit dense at the beginning.
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