by Jonathan Raban

Hardcover, 2006

Call number




New York : Pantheon Books, c2006.


Lucy Bengstrom lives in Seattle with her 11-year-old daughter, Alida. When she is asked to write about August Vanagas, a reclusive international bestselling author, Lucy becomes intrigued by his story of an orphan adrift in Europe in the Second World War.

Media reviews

The very relevance of “Surveillance” to the present moment, in a culture where nearly every surface is hyper-reflective, threatens to amplify the noise and weariness of the day and, paradoxically, actually drown the novel’s own relevance out. To his credit, Raban seems to understand the
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gamble and make the most of it, though not without an occasional misstep — most noticeably the tendency of characters to stagger beneath the metaphorical load. What the book offers in its auditing of the national dialogue contains no surprises. The talking heads talk. The characters also bloom into their bodies, lives and loves. The insufferable weather turns nostalgically clement. We look in the mirror — here we are — and look away, puzzled or embittered or cocksure.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member slipstitch
Interesting but not good second book-length work of fiction from Raban. So many bits and pieces of his life and common tropes are in there: areas of Seattle, journalism, earthquakes, .coms, striving Asians, sailing, the library, research, and stuttering (via his pal D. Shields), and he even makes a
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cameo appearance as the guy in the too-young baseball cap in the SP library. But the story takes far too long to get started, we're not introduced to a major character until too late, and it fizzles to an end without resolution. He's trying for the immitative fallacy: the world is complex and you can't always know for sure what goes on, so there's no real point/structure other than that to the book. I was disappointed!
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LibraryThing member djh_1962
Enjoyable if slightly pedestrian and less than subtle tale for our times about our times ultimately spoiled by a bizarre ending. Doesn’t stand up to the claims some have made for it as a serious novel of ideas.
LibraryThing member Periodista
Pretty effective, a high-quality read for airport or train. Raban is trying to reach a little higher, truth to be told: true and fake biography, fear of terrorism, cyberterrorism, conspiracy nuts. The fear of terrorism is worse than whatever.

That's all kind of hooey. But two of the main characters
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are recognizable enough. One, Lucy, is a freelance (female) journalist researching a right-wing, immigrant prof that may have faked a (what else? He is still British, I guess). Holocaust-era memoir. He's right about the journalist personality: on the one hand or the other, unable to commit, the approach to research.The other is her gay neighbor, a paranoid, HIV-infected conspiracy nut.

Raban gamely sketches the world of the journalist's 12-year-old daughter (doubtless inspired by his daughter) but, honestly, any 12-year-old this into math will at least--at least--know HTML.

Worst, excruciating, is the landlord--a vulgar, illegal Chinese immigrant who inexplicably decides that the much older Lucy will be his wife. Jonathan, there are loads of Chinese people in Seattle; get to know a few. They will be happy to fill you in on Chinese stereotypes, their own stereotypes.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
This is a dark tale of post 9/11 Seattle which I initially thought was dystopian but appears to be in the present with hopefully an exaggerated level of government surveillance. The book was entertaining but not great. The ending was abrupt and I was puzzled why the story just ended. Upon
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reflection , I can see why the author thought that certain issues had been resolved, but it certainly did not feel that way when I ran out of pages.
Still, it is worth reading.
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LibraryThing member capewood
I was really liking this book up to about the last 10 pages. Although the dust jacket reviews talk only about the post-9/11 world in which it is set, to me, all that was only a back drop. People cope as Homeland Security, local police, the FBI and who knows who else become more and more visible. If
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its security checks to get on a ferry (which I've experienced) or Homeland Security home movies to frighten the wits out of every one, you eventually cope. I felt that the story was more about the characters. Frustrated free-lance author Lucy who finally gets a plum assignment but can't really believe that the author she is to write about, August Venags is real. Lucy's friend and neighbor the actor Tad whose left-wing fantasies seem to be getting the better of him. Lucy's 11-year old daughter Alida (the best character) who copes with 6th grade, her mother's attitudes and algebra homework by trying to add it all up. August Venags the professor who hits it big with his memoir of Nazi prison camps as a child. I really liked the development of all the characters.

But as I neared the end of the book I started to get concerned about how the author was going to end the story. I read a lot of science fiction and I've gotten good at predicting when a novel is the first part of a new series. Generally the plot has too many loose ends. Will Lucy finish (or even start) the article? Will Tad go crazy? Will Finn get arrested? Will Mr. Lee tear down the apartment building? And on and on.

One other reviewer thought the book was setting up for a sequel. My problem with a sequel was that this didn't seem like a story that needed a sequel to finish. And certainly not every loose end needs to be tied up. But the author chose an ending so jarring and so from-out-of-nowhere that he might just as well as have had Martians attack or the sun go nova.

I felt cheated. And there won't be a sequel. The ending made all the questions and loose ends irrelevant.
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