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Fool on the Hill (1988)

by Matt Ruff

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9591116,425 (4.17)32
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.… (more)
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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  danojacks | Jan 5, 2017 |
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. ( )
  Superenigmatix | Jan 16, 2016 |
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]? ( )
  ternary | Feb 14, 2015 |
Kind of a fairy tale with a twist. Crazy compelling characters, a plot that was out of this world, literally (unless you believe in sprites).The only problem I had with it was there was too much death -- human, sprite and canine, but the most major of the characters did survive for a happy ending. Definitely a very different, inventive fantasy. I definitely enjoyed it. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 19, 2014 |
This is a fantasy novel set at Cornell University (or a slightly more fantastic version thereof). It features, among many others, a dog searching for heaven, a storyteller searching for love, a colony of sprites who are mostly invisible to humans, a couple of meddling Greek deities, and an old evil lying dormant in a graveyard. Also a dragon. Sort of.

It's a fun, offbeat story, full of literary references to everything from Shakespeare to Winnie the Pooh, with a pleasantly ridiculous plot and some surprisingly well-developed characters. Indeed, if I have one complaint about it, it's that so many of the characters whose stories are interlaced together here feel like they really need a novel of their own, uninterrupted by other people's stories, to fully do them justice.

Also, it really made me wish I'd gone to Cornell. I suspect people with an actual connection to the place are likely to enjoy it even more. ( )
  bragan | Dec 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matt Ruffprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alejandro, CliffordCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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to the Bohemians, with gratitude,
to the Grey Ladies, with affection,
and to Lady Chance,
with deepest love
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Mr. Sunshine first enters the city near dusk of a spring day in 1866, after heavy showers have turned its dirt roads and streets to mud soup.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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