Anne Tyler – Noah’s Compass

This is a novel that features a normal person with ordinary abilities and no particular passion for life. Unmotivated readers (aging with nothing in particular to look forward to in life) will be able to identify with this story. It reminded me a bit of The Ignored * Bentley Little

The main character is 60 years old, has lost his job as a teacher and does not feel like looking for another job. As a matter of fact he sees no reason to continue living. Then some things happen, he sees a glimpse of hope, his spirits are lifted, then it all falls apart, but then he makes it through with a new lease on (and appreciation of) life. He also has a degree in philosophy so he has the consolation of philosophy.

There are no characters in the novel named Noah. So why the title? There is a four year old grandson in the story named Jonah. Well, that’s close but still doesn’t explain the title for the book. At one point in the book the main character reads the story of Noah and the flood to his grandson Jonah (from a Bible story coloring book for children). He explains to his grandson that, “There was nowhere to go. He was just trying to stay afloat. … So he didn’t need a compass, or a rudder, or a sextant…Noah didn’t need to figure out directions, because the whole world was underwater and so it made no difference.” It’s pretty clear to the reader that he’s describing his own personal predicament.

Warning: The book is really, really boring. 

https_%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%2Fimages%2F2010%2F01%2F03%2Fbooks%2Freview%2FHarrison-t_CA0%2FarticleLarge.jpgNoah’s Compass is a low-key, meandering story. While sleeping, Liam Pennywell sustained a head injury as a result of an attack by an assailant who broke into his room. This concussion caused him to have amnesia surrounding the event. He feels great anxiety about this lapse. In fact, it appears that this entire novel is devoted to forgetfulness and remembering. He is a 60 year old philosopher, who seems to have lived his life in a state of oblivion. It is surprising that he had never utilized his chosen profession, nor did his character, for the most part, seem to apply his knowledge in his actions. His relationship with others lacks many social graces- he is “clueless”. In fact, he is devoid of deep friendships and firm family ties. As the story progresses he views his life. Boring, boring life.

He wasn’t hungry for supper himself, but when he checked his watch he found it was after six. He rose heavily and went to the kitchen alcove to fix himself whatever was easiest. In the refrigerator he found half an onion, a nearly empty carton of milk, and a saucepan containing the dregs of the tomato soup he’d heated for lunch. (“Progresso lentil; that the cupboard he found a box of Cheerios, already opened. He shook a cupful or so into a bowl. Then he added milk, got himself a spoon, and sat down at the table. Kitty was trying on a beach robe striped in hot pink and lime green.

“Does this make me look like a watermelon?” she asked him. He forgot to answer.

“Poppy?”

“Not at all,” he said. He took a spoonful of Cheerios and chewed dutifully. If Kitty said anything further, he couldn’t hear it over the crunching sound.

 

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