City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: Book Review

City on Fire

Obtained: Penguin Random House, ARC
Pages: 944
Publish date: October 13, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

When I went to the Penguin Random House offices to celebrate City on Fire back in June, I had no idea it was going to be such a big deal. After doing some research, I was getting really excited that I owned an advanced copy of this book – everyone was raving about how much they were anticipating its release! And I’m here to tell you that it definitely worth the wait.

This 900-page epic is actually so complicated that I couldn’t really narrow down one simple summary, so I’ll show you what Goodreads has to offer:

The all-too-human individuals who live within this extraordinary first novel are: Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s biggest fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Sam, two Long Island teenagers seduced by downtown’s nascent punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter; his spunky, West Coast-transplant neighbor; and the detective trying to figure out what they all have to do with a shooting in Central Park. From post-Vietnam youth culture to the fiscal crisis, from a lushly appointed townhouse on Sutton Place to a derelict squat on East 3rd Street, this city on fire is at once recognizable and completely unexpected. And when the infamous blackout of July 13th, 1977 plunges it into darkness, each of these entangled lives will be changed, irrevocably.

I first started this book a couple of months ago, digging in just a little bit to get introduced to the characters and get a feel for Hallberg’s world. Right off the bat, I was impressed by how much detail he included in his writing. At points, I forgot I was reading a book, I was so lost in what was going on – especially when it came to Regan or Charlie’s stories. They captivated me the most. I loved the grungy feel of the story, and the drama that followed all of these people I was reading about.

The only thing I have to say about this book is that it is the longest thing I have ever attempted to read. I found that by the end, I wasn’t as interested in what was going on anymore. I love introductions because you get so caught up in the world and meeting these new people, but it takes a lot to hold me until the very end, and I don’t want to say the book got worse, but I was definitely losing interest. Honestly, I’m still surprised I finished a 900-page novel.

If you’re into epic novels with many intertwining characters and plots about anarchists in 1970s New York City, I highly recommend you take the time to fall in love with this book. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters without actually gasping out loud and saying, “wow”.

City on Fire is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.


4 thoughts on “City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: Book Review

  1. Naomi says:

    This is the first blog review I’ve read of this book. I have to admit, I’ve been curious about it because of all the buzz. Because of its length, it’s gotta be pretty darn good for me to pick it up. Your review is a good start. 🙂

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