TOB 2010: Let the Great World Spin v. The Lacuna

All the remaining semifinalists are, in some sense, historical novels. Tomorrow’s two are both set centuries ago. Both of today’s use actual, but more recent, historical figures to tell their tale. Being set more recently and relying on more well-established stories, actual events are more constricting in today’s contenders than in tomorrow’s.

Ostensibly, both Let the Great World Spin and The Lacuna use actual historical personalities to give structure to their narrative rather than to drive it. However, with the caveat that I did not finish the book, I felt Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky carried The Lacuna for long stretches, whereas Philippe Petit was a bit player in Let the Great World Spin. While I was not thrilled by McCann’s use of Petit or the complete work, I found Petit less intrusive and more artfully utilized than the trio of charismatic characters around which Kingsolver built her fiction.

Let the Great World Spin was also written with more consistently pleasing prose. Kingsolver seems to have written her book with the goal of making every sentence great. Her ambition shows in some overwrought metaphors and more pedestrian slips. McCann never had eyes sliding across a room and, therefore, he should win this round without working up a sweat.

Update: Was I ever wrong. Jason Kottke has declared The Lacuna the winner. Most of his opinion is devoted to cover design, but, in the end, he just liked the story of The Lacuna better. Maybe that last fourth I did not read really redeems the novel.

TOB Contest Update:

Lizzy (12) and Chris (13) each pick up two points for placing The Lacuna in the Zombie Round and, thereby, remain in the hunt with Christy (13) who stands pat. Darren (8) is still a dark horse with a shot at winning if Let the Great World Spin returns as a Zombie (which it may do) and goes on to stumble to the championship (which it almost certainly will not; given my record prognosticating, Darren should take heart).

4 Responses to TOB 2010: Let the Great World Spin v. The Lacuna

  1. I thought today’s judging report was particularly weak and will admit that I am getting somewhat disappointed in most of the judging reports. A soliloquy on covers and format is all well and good, but if the ToB is to have any credibility surely a semi-final deserves more than an incredibly lazy riff on physical format. Kevin and John put a lot of work into the commentary each day — I would have to say that I think most of the judges put in very little work at all. Many blogs have contained far more perceptive thoughts than I am seeing.

  2. Kerry says:


    I agree that the judging has been weak and that Jason Kottke’s opinion stands out as the worst of a bad lot. I think the ToB revels just a little too much, sometimes, in the satiric aspect of the competition. There is value in making light of the arbitrariness of choosing one of several worthy titles. The whole thing devolves into a mindless sort of relativism if covers rather than content determine winners.

    I agree that only a few of the judges seem to have put much work into analyzing the relative merits of the works they have been assigned or to crafting an engaging or entertaining opinion. It should be considered an honor worthy of effort to be chosen to render an opinion. This year has made me think that a competing tournament might become necessary. As you say, there are plenty of bloggers who could produce more perceptive thoughts than we have seen (Meave Gallagher and Carolyn Kellogg excepted).

    Both the books and the judging have been a letdown for me this year. I have been introduced to some gems, but, overall, these are not books that people will be reading, much less talking about, in twenty (ten, five?) years’ time.

  3. I’d certainly be up for judging in an alternate tournament. Not sure there is much point to it,however. The ToB has established a franchise and as lazy as I have found some of the judges, I’m not sure I’d want to go head to head in competiton.

  4. Kerry says:

    Now that is an interesting prospect. I know you and Trevor and John Self (for instance) have your hands full, but a tournament with such judges would have to be compelling. Besides, you guys would pick much more interesting books (or perhaps the picking and the judging should be kept separate, but I have only touched the surface with your three names.

    The Tournament of Books really needs to improve.

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