Tinkers – Paul Harding

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 Winner of 2010 Pulitzer Prize

Tinkers surprised everyone by winning the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year. It’s a debut novel from a tiny publishing house so few people had heard of it before its Pulitzer win, let alone predicted that it would scoop the biggest prize in American literature. I’m trying to read all the Pulitzer winners, so naturally Tinkers went straight onto my wish list.

Tinkers begins with George Washington Crosby lying in a hospital bed with eight days left to live. He starts to hallucinate and through a series of flashbacks we come to learn about George’s life and his about his father, Howard.

The book is very short (190 well spaced pages) and contains many beautifully written passages, but I think I might have given up on this book had it been any longer. I felt that most of the scenes were over described:

It was a dim, murky scene, lit perhaps by a single candle not visible within the frame, of a table on which lay a silver fish and a dark loaf of bread on a cutting board, a round of ruddy cheese, a bisected orange with both halves arranged with their cross sections facing the viewer, a drinking goblet made of green glass, with a wide spiral stem and what looked like glass buttons fixed around the base of the broad cup. A large part of the cup had been broken and dimly glinting slivers of glass lay around the base. There was a pewter-handled knife on the cutting board, in front of the fish and the loaf. There was also a black rod of some sort, with a white tip, running parallel to the knife.

There were so many lists of objects in this book that I began to laugh whenever I spotted one – not a good sign for a supposedly serious book.

George used to repair clocks and I did learn a few interesting facts about tinkers, but it isn’t the most exciting profession in the world! Numerous quotes from The Reasonable Horologist by the fictioanl Kenner Davenport were sprinkled through the text and I thought that the best quotes from the book all came from these sections.

Chose any hour on the clock. It is possible, then, to conceive that the clock’s purpose is to return the hands to that time, a time which, from the moment chosen, the hands leave and skate across the rest of the clock’s painted signs and calibrations and numbers. These other markings on the face become irrelevant in themselves; they are now simply clues pointing in the direction of the chosen time.

This is one of those books that takes a look at the deeper things in life. If you enjoy slow, thoughtful books then you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you like a book to have some plot then stay away!

 

Tinkers is receiving very mixed reviews:

….a book to divert but not necessarily to detain. Asylum

I have never read a book like this, and will not forget it. Page247

….a combination of beautiful and flowery writing, with a boring memory based story. Bibliophile by the Sea

Harding’s mastery of language and character are mesmerizing. Nomadreader


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39 Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    I know you have listed a review or two that liked this book, but overall the reviews have been pretty dismal, and therefore I shall not read it. I decided awhile back that I was a Pulitzer idiot anyway. I must just not have the same set of standards as the judges for this prize!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, The Pulitzers are very mixed – some are amongst my favourite books (Middlesex, Kavalier and Clay, Gone with the Wind) others I don’t like at all (Home, Tinkers) I don’t seem to find any of them average so I’ll keep trying them, hoping for more gems!!

  2. JoV says:

    I don’t get this book too and I don’t get some of the choices of Pulitzer. Glad that I am not the only one! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, It is always nice to find you’re not alone!

  3. Simon T says:

    Oh gosh… I have looked at this book wonderingly, but I don’t think I could cope with things similar to that first excerpt. Thanks for stopping me bothering! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, The cover is beautiful, so I can see why it would attract people. I’m pleased you found my review helpful.

  4. John Self says:

    As you’ve noted, Jackie, I had mixed feelings about this book too.

    One point however:

    Numerous quotes from The Reasonable Horologist by Kenner Davenport were sprinkled through the text and I thought that the best quotes from the book all came from these sections. …

    I find it quite sad that the best bits weren’t written by the author himself.

    The Reasonable Horologist is not a real book! It was made up by Harding. So the best passages in the book were written by him!

    1. Jackie says:

      John, Thank you for correcting my error – that is very good news! It was all so convincing – sign of a good author!

    2. Dan Holloway says:

      like the wonderful and ever present composer van den Budenmayer in the films of Krzystof Kieslowski

  5. Bibliophilebythesea says:

    Sorry this one was not a favorite for you either! And, yes, “thank goodness it was not longer”. Thanks for the link to my blog.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliophilebythesea, It looks as though our thoughts matched for this one. Nevermind – we can’t like them all :-)

  6. Dan Holloway says:

    Isn’t it amazing how it’s often some of the shortest books that feel the longest, or the most overexplained. I wonder if this is because of the immense commercial pressure on writers not to write novellas. I soemtimes feel this about Ishiguro – for short books they often feel remarkably long

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, Yes. The shortest books are often the longest! I’m often amazed at how I often manage to read a 500 page book faster than a 200 page one. I didn’t realsie there was commercial pressure to not write novellas. A shame really as a book should be as long as the story, not as long a a publisher thinks it should be.

  7. I had a feeling you wouldn’t like this one! It’s definitely not a crowd pleaser, and I wouldn’t recommend it to many, but I adored it. I think I imagined myself as a Crosby and felt a strong connection to the family stories. Plus, I’m a sucker for New England tales of winter (especially as I read it in an unreasonably warm September!) Slow and thoughtful doesn’t always work for me, but it sure did here. I’m curious to see what Harding does next too!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone as too many lovers of gentle fiction also have problems with it. It seems to have a really random hit/miss relationship with readers.

  8. I don’t think I’ve had a good experience with a Pulitzer winner in a long time. And yours is not the only negative review of this one (though perhaps the most fun review!) Makes you wonder how they select.

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, I have seen several very positive reviews for this one so it all seems to be a matter of taste, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the Pulitzer meeting and know why this was chosen above others.

  9. Amy says:

    Hmm… I have this on my shelf, but I’m a little scared to pick it up :) It’s short though, so should be a quick read at least.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I look forward to seeing which side of the fence you are with this one!

  10. Steph says:

    When this won the Pulitzer last year I was flabbergasted since I’d never heard of it at all, and since I kind of work in the book industry (sometimes… when I’m not working on my dissertation!) that was quite the shock! It’s one that I’d like to try at some point, but I can definitely see how it wouldn’t be the best match for you. I know how quiet novels aren’t really your thing!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I occasionally find quiet books I enjoy, but that is a very rare thing. I hope you enjoy this one more than I did!

  11. Brenna says:

    I want to read this book eventually but I am in no rush… I’ve read many mixed reviews.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, The mixed reviews are quite confusing. Hopefully things will become clearer with a bit of a wait!

  12. Laura says:

    Jackie, I am with you on this one. Even though I like slow, thoughtful books I just couldn’t get into it. I like what you said about things being “over described,” I think that was part of my problem with it as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, You were the sort of person who I thought would like this book, but it does seem as though opinion is divided even amongst you lovers of quieter fiction. I wish I could work out which people would like it!

  13. Connie says:

    Just from the excerpts you posted, I can see why you’d laugh. It’s detailed down to the direction of the orange slices…. unnecessary to say the least. I might pick it up eventually, since the story sounds interesting, and just skim over those orange slices and the like.

    1. Jackie says:

      Connie, That isn’t the only example, but the moment I read about the orange slices I knew I had to quote that bit :-)

  14. SEY says:

    Tinkers did not “capture”me. I kept waiting, though some members of my book club “loved it,” I couldn’t finish it, too many other books to read. I returned it to the library for all those Americans waiting for it on hold. So again, the mixed reviews. It did have some incredible, complex sentences and beautiful writing but…. Maybe the Pulitzer people are hopping on the new author, small press, anti-popular fiction bandwagon? I guess that’s a good thing but it still makes one wonder about their selection process. At least it got a lot of people talking, the author interviewed in the popular press and the publisher some notoriety.

    1. Jackie says:

      SEY, This would make a great book club choice so I’m quite jealous that you got to discuss it – especially if you had a mixture of people who loved/hated it. I don’t think the Pulitzer judges would choose a book just because it is from a small press – the judging panel must have just been packed with people who happened to love this one – a strange fluke given the variety of opinions in the outside world!!

  15. Alyce says:

    The lists and descriptions would be a big turnoff for me. It makes me wonder sometimes what I’m missing that award committees see.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, Don’t worry – I’m sure I miss things all the time!!

  16. I want to read this book, as I’ve read a couple of amazing reviews about it, and in a way, the premise does sound interesting. I’ve never read anything about clock repairers (Nancy Drew case-files notwithstanding).

    Let’s see how I get on with it….

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, LOL! For some reason I never read Nancy Drew so I feel as though I’m missing out.

      Don’t think I’ve read a book about clock repairers before either…

  17. I actually enjoy lists like that, when used correctly, so won’t write off this book just yet. Plus, a very trusted reading friend of mine loved it, so I’ve got to give it a chance at some point, just to see which side of the debate I belong to!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, I look forward to finding out which side of the fence you fall with this one :-)

  18. PBurt says:

    I enjoyed the book. And while there were lists, I saw that as part of George’s personality. He does incredibly delicate and precise work that needs to be done in a particular order.

    I also enjoyed how the author could sum up such intense feeling in a short space particularly the (and I can’t remember exact details) mother who did not feel motherly. I thought a whole story was being told there in a very subtle manner.

    But I recognize to each his own.

    PB

    1. Jackie says:

      PBurt, Thanks for defending this book. I hadn’t thought about the lists being due to the clockmakers need to do very precise work in a particular order – actually thought he might have Aspergers syndrome. Which is something I tend to notice in all books now my son has been diagnosed. Perhaps because I deal with it every day it is another reason why detail and lists annoy me in books?

  19. Wendy says:

    Sorry to hear this was not a winner for you, Jackie…I actually am in the camp with those who loved it. Perhaps it was just the mood I was in, but I loved the contemplative, thoughtful writing in this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Wendy, Another one of the rare books that divide our opinon :-( Glad you enjoyed it more than I did.

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