Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colm McCann


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It is a cold day in January, and J. Mendelssohn wakes in his Upper East Side apartment. He is old and frail, entirely reliant on the help of his paid carer Sally. The day begins slowly as he waits for the heating to come on, the clacking of the pipes stirring memories of his late wife Eileen and his distinguished career as a judge. Later he will leave the house with Sally, and she will drop him off at his favourite Italian restaurant where he will eat with his son Elliot – or rather, Mendelssohn eats, as Elliot fields aggressive business calls. When Eliot departs mid-meal, Mendelssohn continues eating alone as snow falls heavily outside; when Mendelssohn finally leaves, the flakes bite at his face and the tip of his walking stick crunches on the soft white carpet. Moments later he is brutally, and fatally, attacked.
The detectives working on the case search through the footage of Mendelssohn’s movements captured by cameras in his home and on the street, looking for something in the patterns of time that will propel them towards a critical epiphany. Their work is like that of poet: the search for a random word that, included at the right instance, will suddenly make sense of everything. All actions are scrutinised to the smallest movement, to the flicker of an eye.
Told from a multitude of perspectives, in lyrical, hypnotic prose, Thirteen Ways of Looking is a ground-breaking feat of quiet power and resonance, exploring the consequences that can derive from a simple act. Accompanied by four beautiful stories, it is a tribute to humanity’s search for meaning and grace, from a writer at the height of his form.