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Paperback The Floating Opera and the End of the Road Book

ISBN: 0385240899

ISBN13: 9780385240895

The Floating Opera and the End of the Road

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Book Overview

The Floating Opera and The End Of The Road are John Barth's first two novels. Their relationship to each other is evident not only in their ribald subject matter but in the eccentric characters and bitterly humorous tone of the narratives. Both concern strange, consuming love triangles and the destructive effect of an overactive intellect on the emotions. Separately they give two very different views of a universal human drama. Together they illustrate...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Barth 101 & 102: An Introduction to the Master

John Barth's first novel will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary of publication in 2006 Should this almost 50 year-old book, whose protagonist was born in 1900, still be read in the 21st century, by people who may not have even been alive when Barth wrote it? Emphatically, positively, yes! The Floating Opera serves as an excellent introduction to the body of work of one of the 20th century's greatest writers (time will tell), and also stands on its own as an engrossing, amusing, thought-provoking tale. It establishes many of Barth's common themes and settings: the flawed, cynical (yet also fun-loving) protagonist; impossible quests; the absurdities of society's structures and laws; philosophy and morality; coastal Maryland and boating on the Chesapeake. Barth's later works are longer and much more intricate, so TFO is very much like Beethoven's first symphony: a simpler work than his later masterpieces, but which still shows definite signs of genius, originality, and timelessness. The storyline, like Barth's other works, is quirky and highly original. It describes the lead-up to an event that, because of the way the book was written (in the first person), the reader knows cannot have taken place. Barth openly explains the disjointed nature of the book's structure (which is just one way that the floating opera of the title is important to the story), and everything holds together in the end. TFO's protagonist, Todd Andrews, is a lawyer who has developed a detached, cynical view of the world. His mentality is perfect for his profession, and he wins his cases by crafting intricate technical loopholes that reduce his cases to absurdities. Thirty-five years before the Johnnie Cochran's poetic words in the O.J. Simpson trial, Barth prophetically describes a similar situation of the "bon mot" winning out over the "mot juste". But this is just one of the amusing vignettes in TFO. Barth also describes the challenges of an open love triangle, different ways to approach old age and death, the drawbacks of various outlooks on life, and an intense father-son relationship. Comic relief is never too far away, especially when the various crusty old men in the book are speaking. "The End of the Road" shares a central plot element (a love triangle) with "The Floating Opera", but in TEOTR the relationship is about as far from consensual as can be, and as a result TEOTR is a very different, even more powerful story. Barth crams a lot of substance into TEOTR, and it succeeds on multiple levels: as a compelling story with much for the reader to ponder, as a political statement (John Irving appears to me to have been inspired by the ending of TEOTR in his acclaimed "Cider House Rules"), and as applied philosophy, with religious undertones. "In a sense, I am Jacob Horner," states Jacob Horner, the Barthian hero/anti-hero of TEOTR, at the very beginning of the story, but who is Jacob Horner (or whom does he represent)? Jacob Horner may represent the ultimate modern man

One of the great American comic novels--with a twist!!

I discovered this book by happy accident more years ago than I like to remember, but I read it once about every six months and EVERY TIME I find a new pun or joke that I hadn't noticed before. Incidentally, the start-and-stop narrative style isn't as influenced by Joyce as it is by the novel Epitaph of a Small Winner by Joachim Machado de Assis, which is out of print...Also, check out The Sot-Weed Factor by Barth, which is absolutely one of the greatest, funniest and deepest novels ever written by an American! Read ALL his books--they're fantastic!!!

The Satire of a Genius

...John Barth is, without a doubt, a brilliant, witty, creative and original writer. Sometimes he is just too brilliant and original for most of the book buying public. Happily, this isn't the case with his first two books, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road.Both The Floating Opera and The End of the Road concern love triangles of sorts, but each is developed in quite a different manner. While The Floating Opera is funny and rather light, The End of the Road is black comedy of the highest order, and in my opinion at least, it is the far superior book. I think it showcases Barth's genius in marvelous ways, with characterization and dialogue being two of the best. In both books, however, Barth is so dead-on with his artifice and eccentricity that we have to laugh at our own recognition of ourselves, reflected in his twisted characters and their strange goings-on.In both books, Barth's characters seem to be searching for something, though what they are searching for is not made exactly clear. It could be good vs. evil, love vs. hate, war vs. peace, yet ultimately, after each character becomes ensnared in a mesh of confusion and confabulation from which he or she seems unable to extricate himself, the search is narrowed to the simple meaning of existence (or non-existence as the case may be). There are no absolutes in either book, making them all the more confusing for some, but all the more enjoyable for others.Barth, himself, seems to be an author whose message is simple--the world is going straight to hell and we are going with it, so why not have a laugh on ourselves now and then? There really isn't much else to do.I am afraid this review has not done The Floating Opera and The End of the Road justice, but how does an ordinary reader do justice to genius such as Barth's? I recommend all intelligent readers to buy this book, read it, enjoy it, savor it. Laugh at yourself as you laugh at Barth's characters. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. After all, there isn't much else to do.

John Barth is deranged in the most beautiful, eloquent way

John Barth varies from the standard with his writing style and impressive creative content, yet he maintains enough linear storyline to keep things moving smoothly. The Floating Opera is a nihilist comedy and The End of the Road a nihilist tragedy; they are each other's bookend tale.

Like the tide, Barth's stories cleanse and refresh our life

I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations. John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years. A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty . Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...). Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story. But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing. Like the age-old games from which his writings spring (the quest/redemption stories of the Iliad and Oddessy, the "doomed" prophet stories of the Old and New Testaments, the mistaken identity games of Shakespeare and thousands of authors since, and the metaphor of story as voyage and voyage as growth from Chaucer, 1001 Nights, etc), Barth plays his games to remind us that the act of story telling *is* the experience, it *is* the reason we read: the experience of hearing ghost stories around the camp fire remains with us long long after we have forgotten the actual story. And then I remember that, as a reader, I have no more "right" to expect neatness and closure in a Barth story than I have the right to expect neatness and closure in my own life. Try as we might, our own work, our own story is always in progress. And like Barth's beloved Tidewater, the ebb and flow of our own story defies our attempt to capture to master it. In the end, life and Barth's stories remain as delightfully cleansing as the tide itself. KRH
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