Originally published in 1975, Tim O'Brien's debut novel demonstrates the emotional complexity and enthralling narrative tension that later earned him the National Book Award. At its core is the relationship between two brothers: one who went to Vietnam and one who stayed at home. As the two brothers struggle against an unexpected blizzard in Minnesota's remote north woods, what they discover about themselves and each other will change both of them for ever. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (11)
If, like myself you have arrived at this novel after reading O'Brien's other literary offerings: 'The Things they Carried' - Excellent, 'If I Should Die in a Combat Zone' - Pretty Good, and 'Going After Cacciato' - Utterly Brilliant. Then like myself, you will probably be disappointed if you spend your valuable time and lay down you hard-earned, for this VERY mediocre novel. Clearly at the early stage of his career when this was written O'Brien did not possess any great gift for entirely fictitious story-telling, and certainly not outside of his Vietnam 'comfort-zone'.
Billed as somewhere between an epic suspense and a personal growth tale built on many subtle layers, it really is anything but. What it is, is a very average, bland story of no particular suspense, nor growth, evolution nor metamorphosis. All built around a very tenuous cross-country skiing experience that never really delivers any thrills or nail-biting. O'Brien spins his uniform, colourless yarn at an average pace and it's more like a train journey rather than a roller-coaster ride. Not much tensions and not much detail. No neatly drawn characters of carefully painted faces.
O'Brien's ultimate downfall lies in the previous point, in the fact he cannot paint pictures in the reader's mind. The old debate of the written versus the pictorial; the book verses the film is a mute point here. The writer should be at least capable (willing) to deliver enough adjectives and adverbs so as to allow us to use that as glue to add to the nouns and verbs and build our own visual puzzle, but sadly, in this case he clearly does not. His painting is altogether too wishy-washy, too much like some abstract water-colour that leaves the reader squinting trying to match the title to the visual imagery.
Compare this kind of writing to some masters of descriptive writing; Salinger, Hesse, Orwell, or contemporaries like Easton Ellis or Murakami Haruki and you realise that O'Brien is way out of his league in tackling this kind novel. Likewise his publishers were foolish to ever allow this to reach the printing press. One cannot help correlating this to one of those albums greedy record companies put out; albums full of out-takes, b-sides and half ideas better left on the studio floor.
Ultimately this book is bland and fruitless, uninteresting and unchallenging. It neither gives nor takes anything from the reader and offers not the slightest revelation nor ponderous moment, it is pulp-fiction at its worse, and in my mind that is a waste of time and trees. My advice, check out his other three offerings mentioned above, and you won't be disappointed - leave this one to be consigned to the bargain bins and the library shelves.
The Lost Boys
Through more recent critically acclaimed works, Tim O'Brien has established himself as an author to be reckoned with; he is able to craft stories that are beguiling and sobering, hooking readers from the very start."Northern Lights" is O'Brien's debut novel, published originally in 1975, and it reads like a first novel, raw with possible revision needed.Yet for those who have read other O'Brien works it is still a fascinating and telling look at the voice he would later develop.
As usual, the undercurrent of Vietnam is present in "Northern Lights".It is the tale of two brothers and how they disconnect and reconnect after one returns home from war.Harvey Perry, the soldier, was always the beloved son; the youngest child, seemingly revered by their father.Paul Perry, the older son, was always the beleaguered son; meant to follow in his father's footsteps, but not wanting to be like the old man.The brothers consistently found themselves at odds with each other, especially when it came to their father.When Harvey returns from Vietnam, the brothers are forced to confront the differences they had, and the false impressions they have grown up believing to be true.This happens while the brothers are trapped in a blizzard during a ski trip through the Minnesota north woods; lost for weeks on end, they must rely upon one another to make it out, and roles easily become reversed.
O'Brien is a master storyteller; his novels are full of poetic observations about the miniutae of everyday life peppered with dialogue and characters that are vividly realistic.It is easy to see "Northern Lights" as a first novel; the blizzard that traps the brothers in the woods also traps the readers.As Paul Perry blunders and wanders about, the narrative is rambling and unfocused.There always seems to be hints at great revelations to come, but O'Brien fails upon the delivery of such secrets; more seems to remain hidden than is revealed.However, ever-present is the voice with which O'Brien infuses his creations.These characters are living, breathing beings, whose lives are haunting depictions of what lies within every man's soul.
Not such a suspense
Northern Lights by Tim O'Brien was not the most exciting novel I've ever read but worth reading nonetheless.It is a story about two brothers, one who is adventurous and athletic and eventually serves in the Vietnam War and the other who chooses not to participate in any physical or outdoor activities.As adults the brothers decide to take a cross-country ski trip and end up lost in a blizzard in the remote woods of Minnesota.The plot sounds like a story of great excitement and suspense.As a matter of fact, the front cover of the book says `The suspense is spellbinding", so why would I think otherwise?In my opinion it really isn't a suspenseful story at all.It is much more a story of the relationship between the brothers than a story of survival in the woods of Minnesota.O'Brien's slow and calm tone throughout the story eliminates any suspense caused by the drastic circumstances the men find themselves in.The brothers overcome several grueling situations, but the tone O'Brien uses minimizes the danger compared to the unfolding relationship between the brothers.I believe this was O'Brien's intention from the start.Instead of a story of survival, he wanted to tell a story of two brothers.He exemplifies this lifelong journey by the use of irony.Harvey, being the outdoorsman, controls the ski trip from the beginning much like he did every adventure in their childhood.The introverted Perry effectively steps into the role of `big brother' once Harvey becomes too ill to survive on his own.Perry is ultimately responsible for their survival.
3.5 really, but read what i have to say
Tim O'Brien is an award-winning writer and I have really enjoyed some of his other novels. This is his first, written in 1975. I recommend reading Tim O'Brien, but don't start with this one. You may get turned off early and miss out on something really good. After slogging through the first half of this book, I almost pitched it. Nothing happens, even when there is a big buildup to make you think something is finally going to happen. The writing style is poor. There is endless repitition, uninspired description "It was very hot," bad grammar and other irritants.
THEN, I read the second half and was plunged into an action-adventure-survival drama with two brothers fighting for their lives in a whited-out northern Minnesota forest in January. The style didn't improve, but I didn't care. In many ways this book seemed to me the forerunner of his bestseller In the Lake of the Woods, which I highly recommend. Don't pass this one by, either. Skip or skim the first part if you feel the way I did. He gets a lot better as he goes along.
Good debut novel
Excellent debut novel, but Tim O'Brien only got better.All of his tension and emotion in present in this novel, but he still had yet to develope his style and language that has made him, in my opinion, one of America's best writers today.
It's a story about privacy.Private lives at home and secret romances of sorts and the return of a Vietnam vet who has a constant reminder of his time In Country, but he never tells the secret of how he received the injury to his ear.
It's an excellent debut novel, but don't be discouraged if this is the first Tim O'Brien novel you read, he only get's better.I give it my highest recommendation.
It's adventurous and tense when the brothers are lost in the woods.O'Brien paints an impressive picture of the Minnesota woods when these brothers travel at the feet of these enormous snow covered trees in awe and reverence of nature.
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