Review: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Haven’t we all fantasized about acting on pure impulse? Have you ever thought about removing all filters and just saying exactly what you think about someone?

How about throwing a drink at someone because you honestly can’t stand to listen to them for a minute longer? Sure, we all have but for the most part we control our impulses and the filters remain in place.

Luckily we can live vicariously through some of our favorite literary characters! Meet Julian English. Julian is going to act on those impulses and what follows is a train wreck of self destruction.

This is a story about how easily you can fall from grace when you give into rash behavior and you take for granted your “innocents” and become arrogant instead. Julian manages to destroy his life in a matter of three days.

One night at a party, Julian decides he can’t take one minute more of Harry Reilly’s incessant chatter. In a drunken stupor, Julian takes his drink and throws it in Reilly’s face. This singular act marks the beginning of Julian’s break with polite society and his journey into complete self destruction.

Julian initially thinks he will throw the drink but then decides not to. After all, Reilly is well liked, rich, and was a suitor of Caroline English before she married Julian, not to mention Reilly has loaned money to Julian himself….but the more Julian drinks the more the idea appeals to him. Ultimately he decides to throw the drink, not thinking there will be such a fall out after the incident.

From that moment on, Julian is trapped in a downward spiral fueled by alcohol. The next day he has, what is assumed to be a sexual encounter, with a gangster’s mistress while his wife and all their friends look on in disgust. The third day ends with Julian getting into a fight with a one armed veteran, Froggy, who has never been a fan of Julian.

Julian is an interesting character. I didn’t necessarily like him. I found him selfish, egotistical, immature, and extremely manipulative. I almost didn’t give two bits what happened to him, but he was so pathetic that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and his ultimate demise.

He wasn’t necessarily a ‘bad guy’ by the period standards or modern standards for that matter, but he just made a lot of bad choices in rapid succession and was more or less drunk throughout the novel. He mad bad choices and acted on impulse which ultimately contributed to his downfall and suicide.

In general, Julian is a character that most people should be able to sympathize with in some way. After all, we have all done things that we regret or that were done in a rash manor, but in the end we are often forgiven for our moment of weakness and move on, but not in Julian’s case. This novel offers a compelling glimpse into personal decisions about acceptance, forgiveness, and tolerance etc. and how those decisions impact lives.

I personally had a hard time identifying with his character overall, I could somewhat sympathize with him but in general I just couldn’t connect with him or any of the other characters. Yes he should be someone any reader could identify with based on the things I noted above, but for some reason I just couldn’t ever really ‘like’ him…there was something about him that I just didn’t care for. I couldn’t get emotionally involved in the story either, so in short for that reason I really struggled with the novel.

I did enjoy O’Hara’s writing style though. He seemed to really have a talent for putting into words things that people think and talk about privately. I also enjoyed how true to the period the language and style were. O’Hara used a lot of slag that was typical of the 1930’s which for me was a little disorientating but overall I thought it added a lot to the novel in general and make it more ‘real’ for me.

The novel did capture the essence of the ‘hangover’ generation. In novels like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, everything that glittered was gold. Jazz and lavish parties were the themes of the day but when the market crashed it threw American into a giant economic hangover which we see the effects of in this novel.

If you have read The Great Gatsby in anticipation of the film release, then this would be a good book to follow up with. Appointment in Samarra adds a nice contrast to The Great Gatsby, compare and contrast studies for book clubs would also be a fun project.

Though I didn’t connect with this book in the way that I hoped, I still think it’s a worthwhile read. Since the novel used a lot of 1930’s language and contained a lot of social satire specific to the period, I think the reader will gain unique insight what upper middle class American’s were experiencing during that age.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

  • Paperback, 240 pages
  • Published April 30th 2013 by Penguin Classics (first published 1934)
    ISBN 0143107070 (ISBN13: 9780143107071)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher (Penguin/Viking) in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 3 out of 5 (an American classic offering unique insight into a tedious era in American history)

Genre: Classics

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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