Let The Great World Spin, the sixth novel by Colum McCann, is a hurricane of a book, whirling around the streets of New York and beyond, capturing souls within its twists, carrying them high in the air, rattling their very bones until their secrets and shameful pasts, their moments of kindness and generosity, pour onto the ground below and define the people of a borough, a city, a country and a world without judgment or prejudice, but with the compassion and humanity that only a great writer can provide.
This is a novel which explores the lives of its multiple participants, from the grieving housewife to the addicted artist, the unconventional cleric to the prostitute brought low by the law, through different and challenging forms of language, bringing each one to life in sometimes broken, sometimes elegant dialect. Each personal history, each moment of candour and vulnerability, forms a vibrant philosophy, which roots itself in the story, providing a solid foundation upon which the novel is built.
The writing is instantly beautiful. Fine, acute, precise. McCann does what he wants with syntax, allowing it to breathe, to soar, to march in the most unexpected directions. It offers a sense of language being liberated and yet it remains utterly under the control of a creator who knows when to make it whisper quietly in our ears and when to set it free to roar in the colloquialisms of its characters.
It is a novel whose structure is both complex and engaging. It is daring. The stories are interweaved in a way that always retains the reader’s interest. There is suspense, unexpected moments of tenderness within the howl, unpredicted threats of violence beneath the calm.
This is a remarkable literary work, a genuinely 21st Century novel that speaks to its time but is not enslaved by it. The human condition, the kindness and cruelty shown from one man to another, the ways in which we suffer and triumph, are subjects which have resonated through fiction for centuries. In each generation, writers explore these themes and rephrase the questions that our humanity asks of us. There are few answers in this novel. Its beguiling nature leaves the reader with as much uncertainty as we feel throughout our lives, but therein lies the power of fiction and of this book in particular.
In the opening pages of Let The Great World Spin, the people of New York City stand breathless and overwhelmed as a great artist dazzles them in a realm that seemed impossible until that moment; Colum McCann does the same thing in this novel, leaving the reader just as stunned as the New Yorkers, just as moved and just as grateful.
Judges: Susan Bassnett, John Boyne, Tessa Hadley, Nancy Huston, Michael Hofmann and non-voting chairperson: Judge Eugene Sullivan