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BookBrowse Reviews Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney

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Metropolis

A Novel

by Elizabeth Gaffney

Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney X
Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2005, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 480 pages

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Gaffney's tale of old New York is pure bliss - 1st Novel/Historical Fiction

From the book jacket: Elizabeth Gaffney’s Dickensian Metropolis captures the splendor and violence of New York in the years after the Civil War, as young immigrants climb out of urban chaos and into the American dream. On a freezing night in the middle of winter, Gaffney’s nameless hero is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation.

Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage across the Atlantic, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city’s toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and beautiful young woman.

Comment: Metropolis is set in the notorious 'Five Points' area of Lower Manhattan in the mid 19th century, a time when the area teemed with alcoholism, violence and prostitution, and was also home to a rotating population of destitute European immigrants and freed slaves from the South. By the mid 19th century, the neighborhood's Irish population was second in size only to Dublin's and the streets were ruled by Irish gangs. This is the same setting as portrayed in Martin Scorsese's 2002 movie Gangs of New York or (broadly speaking) E.L. Doctorow's novel, Billy Bathgate (1989).

In case you wonder, Gaffney tells me that the hero of her story, Frank Harris, is not intended to be a fictionalized version of the Irish author and editor, Frank Harris (1851-1931), author of 'My Life & Loves'. She chose the name simply because she liked it and it was a common name of the time.

"The pace and density of Metropolis are rewarding yet stubbornly unpredictable. The book's vivid tableaus and high drama are offset by close study of how urban planning, construction projects and contagious illnesses actually work. All this moves circuitously but firmly toward a finale that validates all the sprawl and unexpectedness of what has come before." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times.

"Gaffney's tale of old New York is pure bliss." - Booklist (starred review).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2005, and has been updated for the February 2006 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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