Getting sucked into bookish hypes is so easy, but often not worth it. Esmée will look into these hypes for you, so only she has to potentially waste her time.

What’s this hype everyone’s talking about?

City on Fire is the 944 page novel written by first time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg. It took him almost a decade to write, but then he could sit back and watch the bidding war begin.  In the end publisher Knopf won with a 2 million dollar advance and before the novel hit the shelves, the movie rights were sold to Oscar-winning producer Scott Rubin. The novel has been translated in several languages already and has made the news many, many times. It’s very uncommon that a novel, let alone a debut novel, gets an advance this high. So besides making the world think that authors are all rich as hell, is City on Fire worth all the hype?

Don’t Believe it

If this continues to be a series, I will probably always tell you to not believe the hype, but with different degrees of not believing. There’s just a big difference between not believing and NOT believing that I can’t capture it with any other words.

City on Fire falls in the not believing category, because the hype was so big that it couldn’t do anything but fail. No book will survive the scrutiny City on Fire has been under. Most of the criticism it’s getting is fair though. There are some very cringe-worthy lines, even worse sex scenes and the story just isn’t worth 944 pages. But what book of that length wouldn’t have at least 50 awful lines and more than a 100 pages that could be cut? That sort of seems to be the deal with long books. Not every page is going to be worth a million dollars, that’s why Hallberg only got 20.

But for all of it’s flaws, City on Fire is one hell of a debut novel. The story is a little too perfect for my taste – weaving all characters in connection to each other – but Hallberg spins a tale that had me entertained from start to finish. I think it’s an impressive feat to make a story this long feel much shorter and to keep the readers interesting throughout most of it. I had a much worse time reading The Goldfinch and The Luminaries.

The characters from City on Fire are almost all interesting and Hallberg writes them in such a way that you really do start to care about what happens to them. He juggles all of these different perspectives and lives fairly well and rounds off all story lines with the culmination of the big blackout.  But as said before, a novel this dense can’t be without faults and for every great character like Regan and Charlie we also had to deal with people like Felicity and Amory Gould. Especially the latter seemed like the most evil person the author could imagine without turning to literal super-villainesque behavior.

As a final verdict, I would say that reading City on Fire is definitely not a must. However, if you have enough time on your hands and you really want to be in the know about the ‘it’ books of literature, this book will definitely not be a waste of your time and you’ll probably enjoy yourself for the entire ride.

Did you buy into the hype of City on Fire and did you think it was worth it? Share your experiences in the comments!


Esmée de Heer is head honcho over at the Bored to Death book club website, writing the daily content and making sure the site stays up and running. She's one of the founding sisters of the book club and enjoys reading and giving unsolicited love advice.

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