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The Confessions of Edward Day [Paperback]

Valerie Martin
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Book Description

Aug. 13 2009
Set in the world of 1970s Manhatten theatre, The Confessions follows aspiring thesp Edward Day, his friends and associates, as they re-assess ideas of sexuality, duty and gratitude - and the wisdom of living as a jobbing actor. After Edward Day joins fellow actors for a summer weekend on the New Jersey Shore, his life is never the same again. He is saved from drowning by the mysterious Guy Margate, a man with whom he shares both a marked physical resemblance and an implacable attraction to the beautiful, talented, neurotic Madeleine Delavergne. Ever after, in spooky encounters provoked by envy and resentment, Edward is torn between his desire for Madeleine and his indebtedness to the querulous Guy. Professional and personal jealousies come to a head when Edward is cast opposite Madeleine in an acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya, their respective roles painfully mirroring the reality of their personal situations. As the sexual tensions of the play spill over outside the theatre walls, Guy - Edward's reluctant saviour and now Madeleine's husband - makes the ultimate act of protest.

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Review

"Valerie Martin never repeats herself. After a memorable novel about Victorian London (Mary Reilly) and the best book there is about slavery (Property), she has now recreated in stunning detail a recent decade that feels as glamorous and remote as the 1890s or the 1920s." EDMUND WHITE "engrossing... The best thing about Martin's novel is its portrait of a live of an actor...a wonderful evocation...It is a testament to the author's skill that Edward's shortcomings only serve to make the book more enjoyable." -- STEPHEN AMIDON SUNDAY TIMES - 13.09.09 "There are shades of Highsmith here, and Wilde's Dorian Gray. This novel is marvellous and unmissable." -- KATE SAUNDERS THE TIMES - 29.08.09 "Martin draws us skilfully and boldly into a world in which near drownings, lost loves, stalkers and the loaded gun which must finally go off, are not nearly as terrifying as the unknowability of the human psyche." DAILY TELEGRAPH - 29.08.09 "Valerie Martin is a goddess. Her prose is so sharp, intense and wickedly witty, you'll whip through this story like lightning... Glamour, intrigue and passions run high in this scintillating novel." EASY LIVING - OCTOBER 09 "Actors will always be fascinating creatures to us mortals, but this hugely enjoyable novel repays that fascination with interest." THE INDEPENDENT - 18.09.09 "a marvellous, sort-of-thriller" -- One of the Books We've Loved in the Past Few Weeks THE TIMES - 05.09.09 "set against a backdrop of New York theatre during the Seventies and Eighties... a lively and absorbing tale that convincingly inhabits its milieu." -- MICHAEL ARDITTI DAILY MAIL - 14.08.09 "a fictional memoir set amid the bohemian squalor of New York's theatre world in the 1970s, when rents were cheap, love was free and actors willingly worked for nothing... what better place for gossip to thrive" -- ANNE SIMPSON THE HERALD - 12.09.09 "Mischevious, observant and often suprisingly moving... a wonderfully entertaining story." -- ROBERT COLBECK YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 05.09.09 "one of the best I've ever read about the actor's psyche." THE SCOTSMAN - 05.09.09 "There is a quality to her storytelling and a classiness to her writing that warrant the accolades she has achieved in a career of eight novels. I predict that her ninth will win her yet more as she plunges yet again into new territory... No surprise then that it's my book with a buzz this week." -- PAUL BLEZARD THE LADY - 18.08.09 "stylish, intelligent, unruffled prose... Martin, deft at pacing, controls her information with such consummate cunning that she creates a very gradual slide of the reader's response towards Edward so that the complete revelation of his unsympathetic nature comes only at the end as a considerable detonatory charge." SUNDAY TELEGRAPH - 27.09.09 "Martin's prose is meticulous and perfectly balanced - there is not a word out of place. This is a graceful, epigrammatic novel." IRISH TIMES 26.09.09 "Valerie Martin gets right into the psyche of the actor... the atmospheric theatre setting, the clever plotting and the perceptive characterisations make this a real winner." -- BOOKSELLER'S CHOICE THE BOOKSELLER "a simple love triangle storyline" THE BIG ISSUE - 24.08.09 "Set against a vibrant backdrop of 1970s theatre... a startling and perhaps bittersweet conclusion to the ninth novel from American writer Valerie Martin, winner of the 2003 Orange Prize." PRESS ASSOCIATION syndicated review - 21.08.09 "an icy psychosexual thriller that relies on easy jokes about thesps and arty types but it would be a shame if the novel's craft were doubted. The text knowling embodies its themee, performance , rehearsing, riffing, interpreting, as an actor interprets a script. And thanks to the deadpan narration, the jokes are fun." TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT - 30.10.09 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Valerie Martin is the author of three collections of short fiction and nine novels, including Mary Reilly and her Orange Prize-winning PROPERTY. She lives in upstate New York.

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By Walter Hypes TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Martin hits a slam dunk with this wry and thoughtful novel set in the Manhattan theatre world of the 1970's where much of the story is framed around the illusions and theatrical aspirations of its three main characters, Edward Day, his arch nemesis the dashing Guy Margate and the beautiful but brittle Madeleine Delavergne whose mysterious ascendancy to the boards of off-Broadway is ultimately poignant and tragic. Like the stuff of Shakespeare, the novel begins with a tragedy when Edward's mother and her girlfriend Helen commit suicide together in their Brooklyn apartment, the act a catalyst for Edward as he finds solace in his acting classes. A remedy from unbearable sorrow and guilt, Edward plunges into his new craft, searching for a visceral way to give an audience everything they need to know about suffering, overwhelmingly drawing on his personal tragedy. It is here in New York as Edward endures the frustration of auditions and the anxious wait for call-back sessions that he meets his first great love, the beautiful and completely fearless Madeleine who makes him laugh and is "evidently available." Edward is rhapsodic. And even as he befriends the curly-headed Teddy and his friend Mindy, partaking in late night swimming and smoking pot, his affair with Madeleine is cemented amid the sighs and cries muffled by the steady rumbling of the tide. Typical of his tribe, Edward is plagued with self-important narcissism, his young life characterized by a type of self congratulatory grandeur. It's not surprising then, the desire for Madeline loses its edge and a comfortable familiar smugness appears to take its place. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Somebody's got to teach. Acting is an art after all" Aug. 16 2009
By Walter Hypes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Martin hits a slam dunk with this wry and thoughtful novel set in the Manhattan theatre world of the 1970's where much of the story is framed around the illusions and theatrical aspirations of its three main characters, Edward Day, his arch nemesis the dashing Guy Margate and the beautiful but brittle Madeleine Delavergne whose mysterious ascendancy to the boards of off-Broadway is ultimately poignant and tragic. Like the stuff of Shakespeare, the novel begins with a tragedy when Edward's mother and her girlfriend Helen commit suicide together in their Brooklyn apartment, the act a catalyst for Edward as he finds solace in his acting classes. A remedy from unbearable sorrow and guilt, Edward plunges into his new craft, searching for a visceral way to give an audience everything they need to know about suffering, overwhelmingly drawing on his personal tragedy. It is here in New York as Edward endures the frustration of auditions and the anxious wait for call-back sessions that he meets his first great love, the beautiful and completely fearless Madeleine who makes him laugh and is "evidently available." Edward is rhapsodic. And even as he befriends the curly-headed Teddy and his friend Mindy, partaking in late night swimming and smoking pot, his affair with Madeleine is cemented amid the sighs and cries muffled by the steady rumbling of the tide. Typical of his tribe, Edward is plagued with self-important narcissism, his young life characterized by a type of self congratulatory grandeur. It's not surprising then, the desire for Madeline loses its edge and a comfortable familiar smugness appears to take its place.

Intent to practice his Brando - "the wolf on the prowl in search of a mate," the relationship between the tortuously ambitious Edward and the equally ruthless Guy forms the core of this story, when Guy rescues Edward from certain death after almost drowning off the waters of the Jersey Shore. Edward is just about to give into his fate when Guy thuds into the darkness, his arms lifting him and dragging him back into the world: "Sick, weak and grateful to be alive." Guy is the rescuer who saved Edward's life, so how can Edward repay him? Almost at once the metaphorical stage is set for what becomes a battle of wits, wills and of the best roles as both young men battle it out, using the poor, brittle Madeline as a type of ruse. Pretty early on Guy's dark eyes fixate on Madeleine with a sinister distant interest and Edward quickly realizes there's' something unnerving and menacing about him, his demeanor almost like Christopher Walken's "death's-head grin" Both men look a lot alike - a type in a casting call: " the handsome white guys." There's Guy with his "long canines and wolfish grin," and Edward with his piercing eyes who can stop audiences in their tracks.

When Guy finds himself in financial straights, he automatically looks to Edward to help him out, after all this is the chronic condition of the actor. Consequently, Edward is torn between feeling grateful to Guy for saving his life, but what he feels is not gratitude, Edward mostly feels wary of Guy and just like the actor, he's prepared to present him with a reasonable facsimile of the proper emotion. With theatrical aspirations of her own, Madeleine is inspired by both Edward and Guy and their endeavors, but she's brittle and easily led, and also in her own way quite narcissistic and self-absorbed. She lets herself be pulled into the brutal orbit of Edward and Guy, but then is overjoyed at Guy's brief rise in popularly, his success, heralding the realization that that there's nothing going on underneath- "he's just a big stupid naked self-absorbed, unfeeling ape." Ultimately a decade long feud takes place with Guy attacking Edward on three emotional fronts: his feelings for Madeleine, his personal sense of obligation to him for saving his life, and Edward's insecurity as an actor. All the while Martin speculates what means to be an actor. A narcissistic and superstitious tribe, her characters are perhaps fairly representative - always looking for luck and a glimpse of the future, fearing success and embracing failure, desiring that which is dangerous or forbidden and might cause us to suffer while also strive to be independent, longing at the same time to surrender to a burning passion.

From the seedy, ramshackle apartments, the frustration of failed auditions, the relative merits of acting teachers and schools, the catch-22 of Actors' Equity, the anxieties, perils and hilarious adventures of those who have to appear nude onstage, along with the tiny theatres in the West Village, full of plays that were new and forgettable - the novel is a veritable smorgasbord of atmosphere and brightly lit drama. The author offers up the tantalizing symbolism of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya for the final denouement, the role Edward's big break but where a suicide causes Madeleine to slowly unravel on stage, her mind slipping around the edges. Of course, the slow simmering of Guy's mendacity brings Edward to see red as he watches his arch nemesis turn into an egocentric Machiavellian devil incapable of seeing himself as anything but wronged. Mike Leonard August 09.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Standing Ovation Sept. 19 2009
By Mark Stevens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"The Confessions of Edward Day" is light on its feet, packed with the energy of a good thriller and pulls you in like a gripping Patricia Highsmith--almost as if Highsmith had found a slightly more literary voice. Even the New York setting evokes Highsmith's work and both Edward Day and his friend-nemesis Guy Margate display the determined, relentless drive of some of her darkest characters. Just when I thought "The Confessions of Edward Day" might morph into a soap opera (such as during the summer theatre scenes in Connecticut) a nifty surprise or two brought the plot roaring back. The ending, as neatly timed as "Noises Off," had the potential to turn trite--a gun backstage, "Uncle Vanya" on stage--but was buoyed by Martin's dazzling touch. When the denouement carries a sweet last morsel of suspense, you find yourself thinking of "Confessions of Edward Day" as the finest, most well-crafted book you've read in a long time and you ask yourself, "how did she do that?"

All three characters in the love triangle are up-and-coming actors when we meet them and one of the strengths of "Confessions" is living inside the head of an actor who is learning his craft and also watching others learn theirs.

Thinking about Guy's growth as an actor, Day thinks: "He could never see himself from himself. He created character from the outside looking in, he constructed a persona. Basically anyone can do it, politicians can do it nonstop. It's not, perhaps, a bad way to start. But Guy could never inhabit a character because he was himself so uninhabited. Nobody home, yet he wasn't without strong emotions. I didn't know that last part then."

The writing is brisk, clever. This will be one of the fastest 286-page books you might ever read.

You inhale in a few gulps and yet try to relish each breath.

Samples:

"Their applause sounded like dried peas rattling in a can."

"He gave me another long, magnified look, opening and closing his prune lips a few times like a fish trying to catch a wafer of food in an aquarium."

The relationship between Day and Margate is prickly, tense and full of foreboding. When Margate rescues Day from drowning in the ocean early on, we know the debt will play a significant role. And that's just it--the roles, the conflicts between inner dreams and what you let your friends and associates see--and what you don't let them see.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine, but a missed opportunity Feb. 22 2011
By Ryan M. Claycomb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The value of *The Confessions of Edward Day* is primarily in its evocation of the milieu of the 1970s theatre scene in New York. It nicely captures the struggles of young actors to ply their trade, and works to connect that to questions of selfhood and identity.

Stylistically, its well-written enough, and the plot is fine, as it hinges largely on a doppleganger device that never quite works. The cover image suggests an almost Magrittean exploration of identity, image and emptiness, but what we mostly get is a blend of some pretty straitforward genres: the romance plot, the kunstlerroman, and the double. The kinds of identity-as-performance lines of thinking that are, frankly, ripe for the picking in a novel with this set up, never materialize, and in the end, the novel turns out to be a pretty good (but not great) tale, but little more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feels Right on All Counts Aug. 30 2010
By James Carragher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Confessions, Valerie Martin creates a convincing protagonist of the opposite sex, a tough and not often successful task for any writer. Martin is also very good on the lives of actors trying to succeed in New York's theater world. In another early scene, she pushes her readers into a near drowning experience. It's gripping and scary reading. All this is a backdrop to a romantic triangle and rivalry. A big continuing question for me throughout the novel is whether Edward Day is a reliable narrator. Most reviewers here seem to take his reliability as a given -- I'm not so sure especially when his immediate reaction to the sudden unavailability of his leading lady (and another leg of the romantic triangle) is how hard it's going to be on him having to adapt to an understudy's read of the role. In other words, I wondered throughout if Edward Day is acting in his writing just as he acts on a stage. Yes or no, and I certainly could be wrong, this novel is a great read.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Confessions of Edward Day Dec 30 2011
By Tony - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book has been widely reviewed, attracting some eminent commentary, particularly in relation to its setting - 1970s Broadway - and insights into the acting profession. The 'confessions' are a pseudo-autobiography, from an author exploring acting from from the outside. All the more impressive, then, that real actors and critics have treated the book with respect.

As usual, Valerie Martin walks around her topics to observe all sides, and isn't scared of big themes. This time it is life and death, the Double, the Self and Other, the limits of what we can know. Above all, though, it studies the impact of a persecutor in your life.

Edward was one of four boys to a mother who had longed for a daughter. He was the most girlish of them and closest to his mother, but she abandoned her family for a lesbian relationship. Edward's first night of sex with a girl coincides with his mother's suicide. It leaves him with a wish to be other than he is. He declares that his acting isn't about narcissism or even self-expression, but rather the chance to be someone else.

A talented fellow actor later tells him: "I get myself from what I see you getting about me." But that is different to seeing oneself only through a persona, through an outer shell seen by others, like politicians crafting themselves around their images. That "is not, perhaps, a bad way to start", Edward tells us, but you truly find yourself as an actor when you discover and draw out your inner self, and subordinate it to your purposes.

Such subtlety distinguishes Edward from fellow actor Guy Margate. Guy sees himself only through a persona, even in moments of crisis. He is unaware, for example, of how his jealous gaze at Edward could be applied on stage. His gift for mimicry actually brings out the limitations of that form, its distance from true acting; mimics, we're told, are rarely good actors.

The story turns around Guy and Edward. They are both aspiring actors, very similar looking, chasing the same parts. In one scene they actually stare at each other's reflections in the mirror. They pursue the same woman, fellow thespian Madeleine. This 'double' stuff is so blatant that we are being invited, I think, to look beyond it.

The reader first encounters Guy in the act of saving Edward's life. One night Edward swims out from a beach near the holiday house where he has been partying with other young actors (and seducing one of them), but gets caught by a riptide. Guy swims out and pulls him free, but from then on Guy is toxic for Edward. Like Edward's mother, Guy follows the gift of life with small but ongoing doses of death.

Guy sets Edward up, puts him in a bad light whereever possible, overpowers him in any social situation he can. He finds and plays on weak spots, sends varied signals of menace. A true proficient, he also seeks to disorient Edward through moments of phoney friendship.

The biggest problem for Edward is Guy's parasitic hunger for his life. His hard-won bits of money will do for a start. Then there is the issue of Edward's latent theatrical talent. Perhaps Guy senses that whatever his own short terms successes he is hollow as an actor and person. The "dead gazing upon the living", he fastens on Edward, he will never just drift away.

Perhaps it amused a female writer to study rivalry between men.

Above all, it is a fight over the fellow young thespian Madeleine. Within this triangle another theme of the book plays out: the limits of what we can know of the world and one another. We see only through Edward's eyes, so a lot of their interplay is hidden. But Guy's cold commentary on Edward suggests that our enemies have insights about us, knowledge we ourselves lack or won't look at.

In these memoirs Edward does not give Madeleine's personality the same attention as Guy's; indeed, once he has her for himself his interest in her declines, until Guy makes another move on her, and the story darkens.

Madeleine's vagueness contrasts with the dazzling power of Marlene Webern, as she blazes briefly through Edward's career. An older, accomplished performer, Marlene sees deeply into Edward and shocks him to life as an actor. He lusts for her yet she is really the Good Mother he's missed, and whom Guy will never have.

At one curious moment early in the book, when Guy and Edward walk away from the noctural beach rescue, Guy insists that they already know each other. Perhaps so: his animosity to Edward is already fully formed. In that case Edward as autobiographer has left many blanks, and has let this anecdote slip through a calculatedly false account of their relationship. Some reviewers have taken this approach and one interpreted Edward himself as a monster. But I think it would be more in keeping with the story to understand Guy's assertion as the first of many ploys to knock his enemy off balance. In that case his hatred of Edward had ignited only hours before, during a the party in which Edward was busy with Madeleine, still blessedly unaware of Guy's existence.
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