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Paperback The Floating Opera Book

ISBN: 0553240986

ISBN13: 9780553240986

The Floating Opera

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Written when John Barth was 24 years old, The Floating Opera is his first novel, published in 1957. It is a first-person reminiscence of the day Todd Andrews decided to commit suicide. Having picked...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

To be or not

In his earliest novels (this was his first), Barth dealt with nihilism, but with a grin. This book is all about how a character named Todd chose a day in 1937 to commit suicide and then came to the conclusion, since life is so meaningless, so is death: might as well go on living. Barth writes in an interesting tone and style - not straight narrative. He also shows great authority, which is unusual in a first novel.

Barth 101: An Introduction to the Master

John Barth's first novel will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary of publication in 2006 (I read the 1967 revised edition, which Barth rewrote primarily, he says, to restore his original ending). 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.How to rate TFO? On the Barth scale, it is not his greatest masterpiece, so you'd have to give it less than 5 stars. But on the scale of all works and all authors, it definitely deserves a 5 star rating.

Incredibly well-crafted, subtly psychotic

Barth's first work out of the gate is a tremendous literary success. How did he know so much about the world as a young man of twenty-four? It boggles the mind. I first encountered the Floating Opera when I myself was in my early twenties, and identified deeply with its philosophical, questing hero. Revisiting the book more than a decade later, some of its philosophizing comes off as a touch sophomoric, but I still find it deeply satisfying. It's written with wit, charm, and extreme self-assurance, and the plot is beautifully paced, with many hilarious digressions along the way, weaving together to form a wonderful picture of life in small-town Maryland. Barth also had a nose for hot-button issues (his second Book, the End of the Road, took on abortion in the late '50s), and the ending of the Opera features an offhand suicide-bombing attempt that raises the hair on one's neck far more today than it would've a decade ago.

Short AND bleak AND funny

Barth has so many big huge enormous novels that his first two shorter works are perhaps unjustly overlooked in the shadows of their bulkier brethren. This novel coupled with The End of the Road established him as a new voice with a distinctly different point of view. No doubt readers were hardly ready to read the book and find out that it's about a man who one day decides that the most logical thing for him to do is commit suicide and so he spends the entire book discussing what exactly led him to this decision. Barth somehow turns this jarring premise into something both witty and often extremely funny. Told in the first person, like most of his best books, the constant barrage of mythological references that characterize most of his work haven't appeared yet and so the book remains mostly straightforward (though the copy on the front cover amusingly compares the book to famous literary personages) . . . or at least as straightforward as Barth gets. The narrator tells his story in a roundabout fashion, jumping all over the place in time, sometimes stopping the story for brief asides that occur to him along the way, always reminding the reader of the planned end result of all of this. Barth manages to keep his narrator witty and involving, his viewpoint is detached and often bordering on existential, yet the book isn't cold and sterile, in fact it's move very quickly and despite its subject matter is pretty enjoyable. It's not as dark as The End of the Road and even though it's about suicide it really isn't all that depressing. For some reason the original ending was changed at the request (more like demand) of the publisher, later versions have restored the original and I'm not sure what the fuss was all about, there's nothing really shocking about it. Different times I guess. Still, along The End of the Road, this remains one of the best ways to ease your way into Barth before tackling the more complicated, erudite stuff he would later accomplish. Everyone has to start somewhere. You might as well start here.

Thought provoking up-close and personal entertainment

This work of fiction is told from a sort of 3-D first person perspective. The main character/narrator tells his story while adressing you as the reader on such subjects as his writing skills (or lack there of) and his idea of how a good story should be told. The just of the story is that of how the "author" comes to the conclusion that he is going to commit suicide and tells you of the many events leading to that conclusion only then to have his mind changed by an extraordinary event one day. The autobiographical aspect of the author's life gives some serious food for philosophical thought that leads the reader with wit and humor.
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