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Fool on the Hill (1988)
by Matt Ruff
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While many may disagree, this is one of the most confusing plots I've ever seen with so many characters it makes your head spin! Blending fantasy with college fraternities, and countless other elements, each chapter deepens the confusion. I'm not sure what the author had in mind, but he lost my attention ages ago! DNF.. On to something I can relate with! ( )
To be honest, I'm surprised this book has so many positive reviews. It's definitely a first novel. Chaotic, brimming with literary references, and somewhat pretentious, I found myself skimming most of the book. The basic premise is that life is a play directed by God to amuse himself, and you're hit on the head with this over and over (yes, we've all considered that idea ourselves before without any help, thank-you-very-much).
Part of the reason I may have found it harder to read than most folks is that I'm recent Cornell graduate, and a Risleyite (once a Risleyite, always a Risleyite... it's rather like being a Queen of Narnia). I found all the familiar things distracting. It also made me notice a certain immaturity in the plot of this novel (definitely reflected in Risley culture even today), which is the belief that Risleyites are superior and frats are evil. It's this sort of clique-ishness- the idea of "us" vs. "them"- that the novel spends so much time tearing down in other areas (black vs. white, purebred dog vs. mongrel). The inconsistency, I think, definitely reveals a young author.
Well, at least now I know where the rumor that dogs are allowed to roam free on the arts quad came from.
Outstanding!! A fabulous read. Finished it in 2 days because I couldn't put it down. Humour, invention, surprise and suspense. It was worth every bit of time and trouble I had to find it. I highly recommend it.
How Matt Ruff got from this to the brilliant "Set this House in Order" I don't know. It's not a bad book but is too highly self aware of itself to be as good as it thinks it is.
A few of my thoughts on the author, having read only this, his debut effort:
Matt Ruff is smart. Not Nabokov smart. Not Pynchon smart. Not Dave Foster Wallace neurotic, tortuously smart. In fact, maybe he's not quite so smart after all.
Matt Ruff has read a few books. [b:Tolkien|5907|The Hobbit Or There and Back Again|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1233949700s/5907.jpg|1540236]. Who doesn't like Tolkien? [b:Greek|820461|The Greek Myths|Robert Graves|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1178673714s/820461.jpg|50975] and [b:Norse|24655|D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths|Ingri D'Aulaire|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1167542590s/24655.jpg|372563] mythology is fun, too. And [b:V.|529488|V.|Thomas Pynchon|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1175560583s/529488.jpg|2999000]! I love V. Wait, though; besides the pun (Benny Profane and the V-necks, a college band) there's no substance to that reference. Nor most of the others (see: Bradbury). In fact, this all looks more like namedropping than anything else.
Matt Ruff is young. Painfully young. His entire world shares a tedious, undergraduate attitude towards sex. Good thing the story is set on a college campus, where at least most of the world actually is an undergraduate. Or a dog. Turns out dogs are a lot like undergrads.
Matt Ruff has a hard time thinking up names for his characters.
Matt Ruff is pomo. It's too bad that his biggest "don't forget that there is a person writing this story that you're reading" effort comes writing himself in as God. And as the hero. Both. Shit!
Negative enough for you? The writing is pretentious without the stylistic flair, broad knowledge, or deep complexity of story that would allow me to put aside the pretension and really enjoy myself. But my friends love him so! And, for all his juvenile flailing, Ruff spins a decent yarn. There's promise; probably worth trying a more mature effort of his. [Book:Set This House in Order|71847]?
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Wikipedia in English (2)
It is a literary event when a genuinely new fictional voice comes along. When that voice achieves its newness not through a certain formal facility but through the freshness of its vision, there is truly something to celebrate. Matt Ruff was only twenty-two when Fool on the Hill was first published, but with his novel he gave us a story that won over readers of every persuasion. Not your usual first effort, Fool on the Hill is a full-blown epic of life and death, good and evil, magic and love. Think of the imaginative daring of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. The zany popism of Tom Robbins's Another Roadside Attraction. The gnomish fantasies of J.R. Tolkien. Think of these and you begin to get some idea of one of the most remarkable first novels to come along in years. In the world of Fool on the Hill dogs and cats can talk, a subculture of sprites lives in the shadows and underfoot (if you're the sensitive type, or drunk enough, you might see them cavorting across the lawn), and the Bohemians, a group of Harley- and horseback-riding students dedicated to all things unconventional, hold all-night revels for the glory of their cause. Then there is Stephen Titus George, the novel's youthful hero, who somehow finds himself the main player in a story that began well over a century ago. George is a mild-mannered flier of kites, a sometimes writer of bestselling fiction, and would-be knight looking for a maiden. George will find his girl and the century-old story will provide the proverbial dragon whose slaying will sanctify their love. But it will not be a sword that fells the foe but the transforming power of the imagination.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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Hachette Book Group
An edition of this book was published by Hachette Book Group.