Noah's Compass: Book summary and reviews of Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

Noah's Compass

by Anne Tyler

Noah's Compass
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2010
    288 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the incomparable Anne Tyler, a wise, gently humorous, and deeply compassionate novel about a schoolteacher, who has been forced to retire at sixty-one, coming to terms with the final phase of his life.

Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn't bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new, spare, and efficient condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged.

His effort to recover the moments of his life that have been stolen from him leads him on an unexpected detour. What he needs is someone who can do the remembering for him. What he gets is—well, something quite different.

We all know a Liam. In fact, there may be a little of Liam in each of us. Which is why Anne Tyler’s lovely novel resonates so deeply.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"By the end of the novel, the particulars of Liam's life really haven't changed that much, but he is utterly transformed. And so will be the reader." - Kirkus Reviews

"Only Tyler could write such a gently hilarious and wise comedy of obliviousness and discovery." - Booklist

"Starred Review. Tyler's gift is to make the reader empathize with this flawed but decent man..." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Another winning effort by Tyler; for readers of Reynolds Price's The Promise of Rest and early Tyler novels such as Dinner at Homesick Restaurant." - Library Journal

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

funny, moving, thought-provoking, brilliant as always
Noah’s Compass is the eighteenth adult novel by American author, Anne Tyler. When sixty-year-old Liam Pennywell is retrenched from his job as a fifth-grade teacher, he decides to downsize his life, moving to a smaller apartment with less possessions; he even considers retiring altogether. But after going to sleep in his new bedroom, he wakens in a hospital bed with no memory of intervening events. His capable ex-wife Barbara and his three daughters (the rather bossy Xanthe, the born-again Christian Louise and seventeen-year-old Kitty) tell him to be grateful he can’t remember being mugged, can’t remember how he got his scalp wound or the bite on his hand. But the void in his recall nags at him, and in his neurologist’s waiting room he encounters Eunice, a woman whom he feels may hold the key to the recollection he seeks. And it seems that, unlike Xanthe, Louise and Kitty, who find him hopeless and obtuse and are infuriated by his policy of not arguing, Eunice looks up to him and seems to understand him. Whilst aware of her shortcomings - “plump and frizzy-haired and bespectacled, dumpily dressed, bizarrely jeweled, too young for him and too earnest” - might he, after being widowed, remarried and divorced, have finally have found someone to be happy with? And just to complicate life even further, Kitty comes to live with him for the summer vacation, something he’s not entirely sure how to cope with. And there’s Kitty’s boyfriend, Damian, who attracts the disapproval of Xanthe and Barbara. Tyler excels at making the reader really care about fairly ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things and having fairly ordinary events occur in their fairly ordinary lives. And just when the plot sounds somewhat predictable, Tyler throws in a major twist or two. Liam is a likeable character who admits “….I haven’t exactly covered myself in glory. I just….don’t seem to have the hang of things, somehow. It’s as if I’ve never been entirely present in my own life.” Through Liam’s thoughts, Tyler displays some wonderful imagery: “Damian had the posture of a consumptive – narrow, curved back and buckling knees. He resembled a walking comma.” and “Nobody would mistake him for anything but a cop. His white shirt was so crisp that it hurt to look at it, and the weight of his gun and his radio and his massive black leather belt would have sunk him like a stone if he had fallen into any water.” Many of the interactions between characters are laugh-out-loud moments, but Liam provides some gems of wisdom too: “He started laughing. He was laughing out of surprise as much as amusement, because he hadn’t remembered this himself until now and yet it had come back to him in perfect detail. Where from? he wondered. And how had he ever forgotten it in the first place? The trouble with discarding bad memories was that evidently the good ones went with them.” This novel is characteristically Anne Tyler: funny, moving, thought-provoking and, as always, quite brilliant.

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Author Information

Anne Tyler Author Biography

© Diana Walker

Anne Tyler's 50 Year Writing Career

In March 2013, Anne Tyler announced the title of her upcoming novel in an interview with the BBC. She also noted that she didn't want to finish another novel - not even this one. She described the book as a "sprawling family saga," which starts with the present generation and then moves back, one generation at a time. Fortunately, she realized she was only interested in three generations. Anne TylerBefore this revelation, she figured A Spool of Blue Thread could go on long enough that she might die before its publication! That way she wouldn't have the hassle of the editing, polishing, promoting and worrying if the book was any good or not.

This sounds like the pressure of thinking up something new and original, combined with her obvious penchant for ...

... Full Biography
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