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Water Music [Paperback]

T.C. Boyle
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 27 2006 Penguin Contemporary American Fiction Series
Twenty five years ago, T.C. Boyle published his first novel, Water Music—a funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle's tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late eighteenth century, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands—to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger.

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Product Description


"Ribald, hilarious, exotic—an engrossing flight of the literary imagination." —Los Angeles Times

"Water Music does for fiction what Raiders of the Lost Ark did for film. . . . Boyle is an adept plotter, a crazed humorist, and a fierce describer." —The Boston Globe

"High comic fiction . . . Boyle is a writer of considerable talent. He pulls off his most implausible inventions with wit, a perfect sense of timing, and his considerable linguistic gifts." —The Washington Post

About the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

James R. Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Professor of English at the University of Southern California, is a widely recognized authority on Victorian literature and culture.

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At an age when most young Scotsmen were lifting skirts, plowing furrows and spreading seed. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A book yearning to become a movie April 9 2002
Sometimes it's great when you turn to this website after having read a book and you discover that a lot of the things that you felt reading it struck the same notes in other reviewers.
Water Music is a wonderful book, the kind of book that takes hold of you and sucks you into its world, making you think and dream of Africa. Someone compared it to the Indiana Jones movies and it's really this kind of story, moving from one desperate situation to the next. It reads like a movie script at times, albeit one for at least five movies. Boyle never forgets his characters, though, which are wonderfully detailed and interesting. I loved the dry humour of the book, even though at times the calamities the main characters got into seemed to be a bit too much.
Even though Boyle deflects criticism at the very beginning, claiming he changed historic facts as wished to, this only rarely leads to errors I could catch (but Africans giving the finger in 1800 I coudn't quite imagine).
As in other books of Boyle (Riven Rock comes to mind), I didn't like the ending much. Maybe it's because I cared too much about the characaters not to have every fate explained (I don't like it when fascinating characters simply disappear from view). For the ending provided, I agree to the other readers claiming that the last 100 pages build up to something they don't deliver (a feeling I got at the majority of Boyle's short stories, too). But it's an engrossing book nonetheless and I would recommend it to everyone preferring their adventure stories to have some finesse.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Another Travel Novel Feb. 15 2002
By Bec
Amazing in it's breadth, the story runs the gamut of laugh-out-loud funny to downright depressing, wisking you from London to the Highlands to the west coast of Africa and back again in a whirlwind. I couldn't put it down, reading through the whole five hours of a cross-country fight. But eventually the story stops being funny, stops being ironic, stops being insightful, and becomes unremarkable. I agree with others: Boyle should've ended this book a hundred pages earlier. It's as if he had the idea to run two stories and characters together, but got there faster than he thought, and then wasn't sure where to go.
But because the majority of the book is so good, and because by the time the story starts to go lame the key plot line is really finished, I still highly recommend it. Boyles command of language and vocabulary is especially noteworthy, and he raises some good questions about the nature of exploration, cultural perceptions and what we perceive as civilized - or uncivilized - societies...with a dose of sex, drugs and clarinet music thrown in for good measure.
(Note: written twenty years ago, it's also interesting to consider his depiction of Muslim peoples in light of the situation in the US, Middle East and Africa the last few years.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Travel account, picaresque or novel of manners? June 10 2001
Revolving around the expeditions of Mungo Park, T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel Water Music is not easy to categorize; it is a travel account, picaresque and novel of manners rolled into one.
In 1795 the Scotsman Mungo Park (1771-1806) went to Africa to explore the Niger, a river no European had ever seen. Upon arriving in present-day Gambia, he went 200 miles up the Gambia River to the trading station at Pisania and then traveled east into unexplored territory. In 1796 he reached the Niger River at the town of Segu and traveled 80 miles downstream before his supplies were exhausted and he had to turn back. He returned to Africa in 1805, intending to explore the Niger from Segu to its mouth. His expedition was attacked at Bussa, and Park was drowned. Dedicating the book to the (fictive) Raconteurs' Club, master storyteller T.C. Boyle has concocted an ingenious narrative. At first he spins numerous strands, weaving them into an intricate exotic literary tapestry, as the tale progresses. In fact, the 104 chapters can be read as short stories in their own right. Their titles are sometimes alluding to literary masterpieces by such figures as Ivan Turgeniev, Joseph Conrad and Langston Hughes.
Boyle's story starts in the year 1795. Mungo Park is held hostage by Ali Ibn Fatoudi, the Emir of Ludamar, one of the inland Muslim principalities in what is now the Sahel. A protégé Joseph Banks, erstwhile companion of Captain Cook on his circumnavigation of the globe and now President of the Royal Society and Director of the African Association for Promoting Exploration, Park, a former surgeon on an East India merchantman, has been selected to lead the first expedition in search of the river Niger.
Mungo's guide and interpreter is the intriguing Johnson a.k.a. Katunga Oyo.
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Boyle, one of my favorite authors, is a black-humored satirist. His books are usually based on historical events and people, but that's where the reality usually ends. Water Music is ostensibly about the "discovery" of the Niger River by a Scotsman named Mungo Park in the late 1700s. In actuality, the book follows the parallel lives of the fictional "Ned Rise", a Dickensian sort of sleazebag and smalltime thief, and Mungo Park, a renaissance man of sorts whose travels and yearnings take him back and forth from Africa to Europe more regularly than his family wishes. The book, arranged in blocks of flashbacks and essays rather than formal chapters, is sprinkled with all of the other quirky historical events that occurred at the time of this story. Boyle, whose short fictions I have also enjoyed in The New Yorker, tells a story that reaches all of the senses, and his books are a mess of smells, tastes, sights, and sounds, not to mention an open door on the raw sexual and animal side of humankind. Like Roahl Dahl (author of such children's stories as Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach), Boyle's protagonists always seem to end up where and how they should, the bastard always seems to get what he deserves... which is rich and satisfying for as emotional a reader as I am. i always have 3-4 copies on my shelves to give out to friends who haven't read it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars His Best Work!
While I've enjoyed all of the Boyle novels I've read, this one is a real gem. Fans of T.C. Boyle know he loves to juxtapose the clash of cultures between characters from radically... Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2004 by Donald Merriam
5.0 out of 5 stars Water Music
This novel is still T. Coraghessan Boyle's triumph! Read it and be stunned..
Published on Jan. 22 2003 by J.A.B.
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning
this book totally rocks. funny AND intellectual? you bet. it can't be beat.
Published on June 25 2002 by "ssssssssssssssssssssss"
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite Enjoyable
Boyle is an excellent story teller, and "Water Music" is a terrific read. The narrative flows along at quite a clip as the plot ricochets between characters. Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong Start, Strained Ending
This is a difficult book to classify, because it contains at least two distinct parts, and I do not here refer to the paralleled stories of Ned Rise and Mungo Park. Read more
Published on April 10 2001 by Conrad Risher
3.0 out of 5 stars history and the novel
If someone asks me whether they should read this book or not i will have two things to say to them: if you are interested in history, read this book; if you are interested in... Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Snide and Clever
Boyle is most definitely a writer for the present -- trendy, snide, clever, precious, and sounding as if he'd just graduated from some foul Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars This book explodes with rich characters and adventure!
TC Boyle challenges the reader to "hold on" through the chapters as you race along the rivers and lives of this story. I was enchanted, humored. Read more
Published on Nov. 17 1999 by Janice M. Hansen
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book ever.
I started reading this book without knowing anything about it. "An adventure novel", I thougt, not very enthusiastic. Read more
Published on July 21 1999
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