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OXYGEN by Andrew Miller

OXYGEN (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Andrew Miller

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409626,011 (3.18)7
Authors:Andrew Miller
Info:Harcourt, Inc., New York (2001), Edition: First edition., Hardcover
Collections:Your library

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Oxygen by Andrew Miller (2001)



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Miller effortlessly writes some of the most aesthetic descriptions I've read in a while without bogging down the narrative. ( )
  David_Berlin | Apr 27, 2011 |
This literary novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s easy to see why. Four interrelated characters, each facing a personal transition, struggles to find his or her way. Through separate first-person narratives, we come to know each one and the subtle and interesting ways that they know each other and the people closest to them. Alice is facing death as her grown but rootless sons struggle to understand who is the Loser and who the Winner in the family circle. Far away in Paris, a Hungarian artist struggles to free himself from the guilt of his wartime past. Each character is beautifully and sensitively drawn, and each journey is ultimately hopeful, but best of all, these people are capable of surprising themselves, their loved ones and the reader. ( )
  kambrogi | Nov 18, 2010 |
Alice is dying and her two sons come to stay. One son is a faded Hollywood success, the other is struggling to work on a translation of a play. These characters are separate and lonely within the family. This story is linked to that of Lazlo, a Hungarian playwright. All the characters are looking for redemption. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 25, 2010 |
A matriarch succumbs slowly to cancer, providing a focal point for a family crisis. Miller's account of disparate lives, and how we're all bound by life and tragedy, is coolly dispassionate and well-written, but I found the Hungarian section not very engaging. ( )
  GerhardH | Mar 3, 2010 |
This isn't really a plot driven novel and the ending is fairly anti-climatic, two main strands of the story leading to what may well happen without it actually occurring. I expected more linkage between the two plots - Lazlo coming to terms with his past and Alec, his translator, with his lack of resilience, but they remain separate and the connection is there more through the symbol of the oxygen which frequently emerges in each narrative but whose import I need to think more about.

At the end we are made to feel that both these main characters are being more decisive and facing what they fear. Lazlo has made amends, in a fairly easy way it seems to me, for letting his first lover be shot when he can't fire at the aggressor but he is facing a bigger challenge when he goes to disarm his unstable friend Franklin whose wife is convinced that he will fire when anyone goes into the flat. Why does Miller have Lazlo remember the name of the British soccer captain defeated by the Hungarians all that time ago and then hesitate three or so seconds before going in? Is it to let us wonder if he will indeed enter? And while the reader may assume that after his mother has called him 'menteur', presumably for not euthanasing her, Alec is going to give her the suicide pill, we are left to wonder what will happen here. Alec could be intending to take his own life but after Larry sees him arguing with himself in the summerhouse, we feel it more likely that he is deciding what to do about Alice and that he does intend to kill her. On the other hand it has been established that the pill may not have that effect as Larry stole it from Ranch who got it from a doctor who claimed it did that but then Larry also took some Viagra type pills and couldn't remember which was which - so Alec could have secreted the wrong one. Clearly Miller wants to leave the ending very open!

Thinking further, I can see that Miller is balancing the tone. For example, he has Larry wanting to get off his reliance on drugs and reestablish his relationship with Kirsty - and we have Kirsty witnessing his confession to his mother and then asking him to talk to her like that - so that both of them having good intentions creates hope but at the same time we know he's signed a contract with a dangerously dodgy lot to act in a pornographic movie. It's all summed up in the ambiguity of Lazlo's play that Alec is translating where the old miner and young girl on the surface are making a last attempt to free the men before their oxygen runs out. So, although Alice is close to death at the end, whether Alec kills her or not, I feel Miller is offering us something optimistic despite the inevitability of reaching the 'fag-end' of life as Alice sees it while still liking the greenness of green and other simple aspects of life.

What I particularly like is the way Miller expresses himself and the broader observations he makes. He clearly points to the burden of consciousness - "he was condemned to be an intellectual, possessor of a mind that stared at itself" -there are more statements like this in the book. It's certainly the wording that is striking and pleasurable - I need to find the quotation where he talks about the woods parting the land and the sky.

Miller shows through repetition that way we all suffer - Una the nurse has to take tablets at night to take her mind off the grief of nursing dying people while the family Alec, Larry and Alice visit to see their childhood home are burdened with the death of their second son from leukemia although at first we are made to feel that they are shallow, materialistic and self-indulgent - Larry had "thought he could have a lot of fun at these people's expense" and picks up the photograph of the two boys only to find the mother "staring at him" and then later the husband, Rupert, tells Kirsty about their son dying two years earlier. In other words, Miller leads us to think one thing and then correct our impressions and show how difficult consciousness is for all of us. Perhaps this is where the oxygen comes in - something that creates consciousness. Even the daughter Ella seems disturbed stealing things and hiding them. Coming to think about it, there's a lot of hiding going on in the novel.

Like "Ingenious Pain" I'm sure this book would yield a lot more on a second reading, one which would be pleasurable because of the way it's written but I may go for his "Cassanova" first. ( )
  evening | Dec 31, 2007 |
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Book description
In the summer of 1997, four people reach a turning point: Alice Valentine, who lies gravely ill in her West Country home; her two sons, one still searching for a sense of direction, the other fighting to keep his acting career and marriage afloat; and Laszlo Lazar, who leads a comfortable life in Paris yet is plagued by his memories of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. For each, the time has come to assess what matters in life, and all will be forced to take part in an act of liberation - though not necessarily the one foreseen.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0340728264, Paperback)

In Andrew Miller's third novel, Oxygen, the award-winning author of Ingenious Pain offers an intense, claustrophobic tale of parallel lives, of regret and redemption.

A family reunion of sorts is underway in the summer of 1997 for Alice, a newly retired, long-widowed schoolteacher, dying of cancer at her home in the English countryside. Gathered at her side are her two sons: Alec, a myopic, indecisive translator, and the more gregarious Larry, an unemployed TV soap star whose glittering U.S. career is about to take a nosedive into the shabby territory of porn films, so he can stave off bankruptcy and hold on to his disintegrating marriage. The counterpoint to this scenario is Laszlo Lazar, Hungarian exile and feted playwright, whose latest work, Oxygen, Alec is translating. Lazar, who has a comfortable existence in one of the more fashionable Paris quartiers, seems to possess everything that Alec does not: critical success, a loving partner, a longstanding circle of artistic friends. Yet Lazar is tormented by memories of the 1956 uprising and a comrade he feels he betrayed. When a political splinter group asks him to undertake a mysterious mission, he seizes his chance to atone for the past.

Shifting between a quintessentially English idyll, the carousing bars of Paris, the physical and emotional aridity of California, and a Budapest of the past and present, Miller skillfully evokes his characters' stories and their common theme--the liberation of self--even if the end result is self-destruction. He writes compassionately of the terminally ill Alice, clinging to the last vestiges of life, the last agonizing breath: "Was that the last to go? Certain gestures, reflexes, a way of cocking the head or moving the hands in speech?" He reminds us that human beings have choices, even in despair, and he provides a suitably ambiguous ending to round off a wise and engrossing novel. --Catherine Taylor, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:06 -0400)

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"In a house in the English countryside a woman in her sixties, Alice, is dying. In the garden, her younger son is working on the translation of a play by a celebrated Hungarian playwright, Lazlo Lazar. In San Francisco, Alice's other son, a one time soap actor and now heavily in debt, is on his way to a meeting with a pornographic film producer. And in Vienna, Lazlo Lazar is having supper with his lover, Kurt, and an American painter, discussing action, courage and the revolutions of 1956 and 68. Each of these characters will soon face a test of courage. Each will be forced to take part in an act of liberation - though not necessarily the one they foresaw. Naturally, there are certain coloured pills, a revolver, and a child who cannot be trusted as the summer of 97, the summer of the comet, reaches its surprising conclusion."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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