I Know This Much is True – Wally Lamb

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I Know This Much is True had been on my bookshelf (along with most of Wally Lamb’s other books!) for several years, but the fact that it is 900 pages long meant that kept getting pushed down the pile.  

I finally decided that it had sat there for too long and so made the effort to start it. I am really pleased that I did as it is a fantastic book.

I Know This Much is True follows Dominick, one half of a pair of twins growing up in a small town in Connecticut. Dominick’s twin brother, Thomas, develops paranoid schizophrenia and we see how this affects Dominick’s life.

It seems strange to sum up a 900 page book in so few words, but the plot is quite simple. Instead of a complex plot we get a complete insight into how Dominick’s thoughts and feelings change throughout his life. We see him struggle to juggle love for his brother with frustration and guilt and by the end of the book I felt as though I could predict his actions. I don’t think I’ve ever known a character in literature so well.

The book gripped me from the very start. Dominick’s complex relationships and inner thoughts touched my heart.

All my life, I had imagined the scenario in which my father would, at last, reveal himself to me. As a kid, I’d cooked up cowboy dads, pilot fathers who made emergency landings on Hollyhock Avenue, hopped from their planes, and rescued us from Ray. Later, I had cast gym teachers, the man who owned the hobby shop downtown, and even benign Mr. Anthony across the street as potential fathers: the real thing, as opposed to the intruder who had married my mother and installed himself at our house to make us miserable.

It took me over a month to finish the book, but it never dragged. My only complaint was that the story-within-a-story didn’t really work for me. I loved Dominick’s voice so much that any deviation had me itching to get back to his narrative.

Many people moan that the ending was too neat, but I loved the way everything was resolved.  It would seem strange to learn so much about one person and then not know what happened to them.

Overall I thought that this was a moving insight into the way mental illness affects the family of the sufferer. Highly recommended.

Thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s a complex, deep, and moving book that you won’t soon forget. Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

But most of all, just too many awful things happen to Dominick that it stops being believable…. Regular Rumination

…. requires patience to wade through, but is well worth the journey. Caribous Mom

Did you enjoy I Know This Much is True?

Which Wally Lamb book do you recommend I read next?


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54 Comments

  1. Frances says:

    The sheer size has always put me off this one but glad to see that you enjoyed this chunkster. Also might have avoided the read this long because the subject matter seems so intense. Hmm.

    1. Jackie says:

      Frances, I wouldn’t describe this book as intense. It deals with some difficult subjects, but it is always in a quiet way that didn’t sensationalise the problems. I’d recommend that you pick it up at some point.

  2. Shannon says:

    I’ve wondered whether this was any good or not – now I definitely want to read it! Thanks for reviewing this :)

    I’ve had She’s Come Undone on my shelf for years and haven’t got around to it yet, so I haven’t read any Lamb yet.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I have She’s Come Undone on my shelf too! Reading this one has bumped it up the pile a lot. I hope that you enjoy your first Wally Lamb book!

  3. Jessica says:

    I may pick this up at some point but I already have east of eden and The passage to get through over the summer so may be sick of huge books by then!

    1. Jackie says:

      I can only read one long book a month and so find the chunksters piling up too. I’m going to try to squeeze the passage into my summer reading too. I hope it is as good as the hype makes it out to be. Enjoy I know
      this much is True when you manage to fit it in.

  4. diane says:

    Jackie, I read this book a long while ago when it was first released and liked it a lot. Have you read She’s Come Undone (also an earlier books of Lambs)??

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, This is the only Wally Lamb book that I’ve read. I have heard wonderful things about She’s Come Undone so that will probably be next on the list….unless someone else persuades me otherwise :-)

  5. FleurFisher says:

    This has been sitting in a bookcase looking intimidating for quite some time. I can’t say I’ll be able to fit it in any time soon but you have me thinking much more positively about reading it at some point in the future. Thank you!

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, It does take up a scary amount of space on the bookcase :-) I decided it had been looking at me for far too long and am pleased that I have now removed its intimidating presence. I hope that you find time to fit it in soon.

  6. Sandy says:

    I read “She’s Come Undone” in about a day. It was gripping and impossible to put down, but it also really disturbed me too. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why it bothered me. I did thoroughly enjoy “The Hour I First Believed”, despite the fact that it was a huge freaking doorstop, and had about six major plots within it. You always hear that its about the Columbine shootings, and it is, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. (As a side note, I read where Eric Harris’ father approached Lamb at a signing to get a copy of his book. The YouTube video of Lamb talking about this was very touching.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, She’s Come Undone is about 500 pages long, so it must be amazingly good to get through it that quickly.

      I’m also loving the sound of the six different plots in THIFB. I think I may just have found another favourite author :-)

      Thanks for letting me know about the youtube video – I’ll go and search for it now.

  7. Kathleen says:

    I’ve read two of Wally Lamb’s books so far, this one and She’s Come Undone and loved them both. This one is actually on my list to reread since it has been about 7 years (I think) since I’ve read this. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I hope that you enjoy re-reading this – I imagine there are lots of little things that you’d pick up on a second reading.

  8. Andi says:

    I haven’t read this one, but I’ve heard so many good things about it. To most, the size seems to become less of an issue as they read. I’m desperately afraid of chunksters, though, so I still haven’t taken the plunge.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, Don’t be afraid of chunksters – I think they often make the best books. This one seems much shorter than it actually is – I think that is a reflection of the writing quality. I hope you decide to take the plunge at some point.

  9. JoV says:

    I like it a lot too. I said in my post last year that : “The best part is the ending. Since no one is compel to read this decade old, 897-pages long novel, I’m going to disclose how the story end anyway.” Reading the comments above, it is a chunkster which make one feels daunted, anyway, here’s my review:

    http://bibliojunkie.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/this-much-i-know-is-true/

    May contain spoilers. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, I don’t think I’ve read so many spoilers in a review!

      It is good to know that you enjoyed it as much as I did, but I’m glad I didn’t read your review before I started the book – I like knowing as little as possible about the plot :-)

  10. She’s Come Undone is the only Lamb novel I own so far and it just so happens to be the shortest; I’ll read that first and then the doorstops. Glad you enjoyed this one, Jackie; I’ve never read or heard a bad thing about Lamb’s novels and can’t wait to join the club.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I have read a few bad things about Lamb’s writing, but having loved this I think I can say that those problems don’t bother me. I’m a fan!!

  11. Bina says:

    I have had this book on my shelf for too long too! But it sounds like the effort of reading 900 pages is worth it, so I´ll try to make more of an effort :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Bina, It isn’t a fast paced book, but I found it easy to read – especially when reading little chunks over several weeks. I thought it was worth the effort and I hope that you do too :-)

  12. JoAnn says:

    I loved this book… and everything else Wally Lamb has written. Like Sandy, I blasted through She’s Come Undone in just a couple of days – could not put it down! The Hour I First Believed was a great book, too. A lot going on, but I loved it anyway. His Christmas book, Wishin’ and Hopin’ was hilarious. I highly recommend that for the holiday season.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, It is great to know that all his books are so good. I’ve got them lined up and ready to read :-)

  13. stacybuckeye says:

    I love big fat books, but am always putting off reading them because of the size. I just started one that is over 500 pages and am loving it, so it seems like 500 pages won’t be long enough! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      stacybuckeye, I love it when you don’t want a book to end. I hope you love all 500 pages of your book :-)

  14. Jenny says:

    It’s encouraging to hear that this goes pretty quickly – I’m very intrigued by mental illness, and I’ve heard that Lamb handles it well in this book, but the size of the book intimidated me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I do think he handles mental illness very well. Some of the subtle observations were very touching. I don’t have any experience, so can’t comment on its accuracy, but it felt real to me.

  15. christina says:

    I have had this on my bookshelf forever as well. One of these days.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christina, I feel guilty when a book has been looking at me for too long. I hope your copy makes it off the shelf soon.

  16. Elise says:

    I have been meaning to read this for ages as well, also put off by the 900 pages!! Thanks for the review, I might have to move it up the pile!

    1. Jackie says:

      Elise, I think it is well worth reading. I hope that you enjoy it.

  17. Misha Mathew says:

    I had loved this book. Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors. You should read She’s come undone next.

    Misha

    1. Jackie says:

      Misha, It is sounding as though She’s Come Undone is the best. I’m looking forward to discovering why people rave about it.

  18. JHS says:

    One of my all-time favorite books. LOVED it. Also loved She’s Come Undone.

    1. Jackie says:

      JHS, It will probably make my favourite reads of the year list. It is nice to hear that you really loved it.

  19. Karen says:

    I am so glad you enjoyed this one Jackie – it is my absolute favourite of Lamb’s books. I read it years ago now and remember loving it but I have been meaning to re-read it for a while now that I am working with people who have a mental illness and their families.

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, It must be interesting to read this book with knowledge of mental illnesses. I hope you review your re-reading and let me know what you think of the realism of the mental illness portrayals.

  20. One of my absolute favorite books. In fact, it’s been almost 10 years since I read it – it definitely deserves a reread! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Heather, I’ve probably had it sitting unread for nearly that long – I really need to ensure I don’t leave books lying unread for that long again. :-)

  21. Belle says:

    This too has been on my bookshelf for years. I really should start on it – I think the sheer size of the endeavour has been putting me off.

    1. Jackie says:

      Belle, I hope you decide to start it soon.

  22. Jenners says:

    I think Wally Lamb is such a gifted writer … but I think he needs an editor!!! I was not a big fan of the story within a story (though he didn’t get as carried away with it as he did in “The Hour I First Believed.”) And you are right … it long but it never drags. I didn’t like it as much as you .. but I think it is better than most other books out there. He just needs to edit things a bit more and he’d be perfection!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m not sure he needs an editor. It didn’t drag and although the plot could have lost a few hundred pages I think the book was richer for their inclusion. I’m sorry to hear that he over does the story within a story thing in The Hour I First Believed – I’m not a fan of those at the best of times!

  23. I have this book on a shelf to read too, but I’ll admit, the size puts me off a bit. I have a hard time committing. But it sounds like it’s worth the time, which I’m glad about!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kim, I recommend reading little chunks each day and reading other things at the same time. I find it makes chunksters much less intimidating if I plan to take a while to read it. I hope that you enjoy it!

  24. LizF says:

    I’ve had this for years too (can’t tell how many as for some reason I failed to write the purchase date in it) but seeing your review has made me take it off the shelf to (hopefully) start in the next few days. Really looking forward to it now – there is nothing better than a big fat novel to get stuck into!

    1. Jackie says:

      LizF, I think it would be very scary if I started writing the purchase date int my books – I’d get a guilt overload! I do tend to love longer books more than shorter ones and I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I did.

  25. Becky says:

    I really loved this book, for all of the complex issues it tackled. I’ve had a hard time getting anyone else to read it, especially after they hear the subject matter, but I really got into this book. I actually had an uncle who had schizophrenia, and it was a pretty frightening experience. I’m sure I drew on our experiences with him as I read this book, which is why it was such a quick read for me, but I still think it’s an amazing novel. I can’t say I’ve read anything else by the author though, so I can’t really recommend anything else!

    Thanks for your review. I think it’s good to remind people of this great book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Becky I think the length of the book is what puts most people off. It is hard to persuade some of my friends to read a 300 page one – 900 pages is just too much for most. The subject matter also sounds depressing, but it is hard to explain how this book manages to keep a postive feeling most of the way through. I can imagine that having a personal experience to remember would only make this book more powerful. I hope you get round to reading more Lamb books soon.

  26. Ele Roper says:

    I really enjoyed this as well – I totally agree with the ending comment as well – while the subject matter was weighty and it was often an exhausting read, it beautifully tied up the threads of the story, and left me feeling light and positive! http://bit.ly/ahKUsk

  27. trish says:

    I’m so glad you liked this book! I’d probably agree about the story within a story. I’ve read both She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, and I can’t wait to read The Hour I First Believed. I got to see Wally Lamb when he toured for THIFB, and he was so inspiring that I fear I can’t look at him objectively anymore. Obviously, that won’t stop me from reading his books!

    Oh, and hearing him read out loud from THIFB gave me an ear for his voice, so when I read his recent Christmas book, I had his voice in my head the whole time. It was awesome.

  28. i actually liked She’s Come Undone better than I Know This Much is True. like some of the other commenters, i found She’s Come Undone to be gripping and i read it in a single sitting.

    i’m glad you found a new author for yourself that you enjoy!

  29. Wendy says:

    Glad to see you enjoyed this one, Jackie! Thanks for the link love :)

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