Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Tales Of The City

Five words from the blurb: San Francisco, secretary, coincidences, life, romantic

Tales of the City is set in San Francisco during the 1970s. The novel revolves around a boarding house where a diverse range of characters live and socialise in a free society, full of sex and drugs.

I was pleased when my book group selected this novel to read as it is one I’ve heard lots about. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me and I couldn’t finish it. 

The writing was primarily dialogue and I think the main joy is to be found in its humour. Unfortunately I didn’t find it funny. There were occasions when I could see the joke, but I’m afraid it didn’t even make me smile. I’ve never been a fan of US sitcoms and I think this is the bookish equivalent of one.

Mona knocked at the wrong time.
“Uh…yeah…wait a minute, Mona — ”
Mona shouted through the door. “Room service, gentlemen. Just pull the covers up.”
Michael grinned at Jon. “My roommate. Brace yourself.”
Seconds later, Mona burst through the doorway with a tray of coffee and croissants.
“Hi! I’m Nancy Drew! You must be the Hardy Boys!” 

The characters were well drawn, but I wasn’t interested in them. The antics of these young, stupid people made me cringe and I quickly became bored with their inane banter.  

The plot was very slow moving and I struggled through the pages, trying to finish it for the good of the book group discussion. Unfortunately I was defeated and abandoned it after 120 pages. I skim read the ending, but I’m afraid that made me roll my eyes even more. 

Recommended to those who like light, dialogue-led American humour. 


8 replies on “Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin”

I read the whole series back in the late 1980s – I was in my late twenties and I loved them back then. The first in the series was published in 1978 – so ten years later wasn’t so out of time perhaps? I should add that I found them quite eye-opening at the time – I had no idea about their kinds of lifestyle! I’ve kept my set and have wondered from time to time whether they’re worth re-reading – but maybe not, they certainly wouldn’t shock me today and I think that was part of their allure at the time …

Annabel, I think I may have loved these books had I read them at a younger age. I can see them really appealing as a teenager – although probably not for the right reasons! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you decided to re-read them.

Yep, I read the whole series over a long weekend in 1994 as I recollect. I just loved the warmth of the them. But that was then. I have no idea whether I’d like them now. (I’m not much into American sitcoms either – trying to think of any really that I’ve watched – oh, I probably saw the odd Friends or Seinfeld but not as a regular thing).

I didn’t love Tales of the City, but I liked how it was this particular slice in time and place, and I’m curious to read more in the rest of the series as the characters progress through time (apparently Maupin’s novels were among the first to mention the AIDS epidemic). But I could see why someone might not finish it. I was reading it ahead of a trip to San Francisco, so that was my main motivation for reading it.

Christy, I think knowledge of San Francisco must really improve these books. I agree it is a really interesting period of history so it is a shame they didn’t work for me.

This is so interesting, I enjoyed reading all Armistead Maupin’s books years ago, their easy flowing narrative, good characters, and a new to me and different life style. In the past couple of weeks a dramatisation has been serialised on Woman’s Hour and I’ve found it banal, boring, even silly. Bit of a shame, even sad I think.

Carol, That is good to know! I tried listening to the dramatisation on radio 4 too. I wondered if it would work better on audio, but unfortunately it didn’t. I actually became even more annoyed by the banality of it all and couldn’t even listen to an entire episode! One of those books I wish I’d read at a younger age.

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