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The Long Take

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Walker, a young Canadian recently demobilised after war and his active service in the Normandy landings and subsequent European operations. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to face a return to his family home in rural Nova Scotia, he goes in search of freedom, change, anonymity and repair. We follow Walker through a sequence of poems as he moves through post-war American cities of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

237 pages, Hardcover

First published February 22, 2018

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About the author

Robin Robertson

26 books101 followers
There is more than one author with this name in the Goodreads catalog. This entry is for Robin ^3 Robertson.

Robin Robertson is from the north-east coast of Scotland. His four collections of poetry have received the E.M. Forster Award and various Forward Prizes.


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Profile Image for Meike.
1,516 reviews2,462 followers
March 19, 2021
Well-deserved Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2018
Wow, the poetic vision of this book is simply brilliant - what a haunting, atmospheric, and perfectly composed text! Robertson tells the story of a Canadian soldier who fought at the Western front in WW II and comes to the US to make a life for himself - or is it to get lost and to forget?

Our protagonist bears the telling name Walker, and he finds a new purpose as a newspaper reporter, roaming the city and covering mainly social issues, especially the life of the destitute on Skid Row in Los Angeles and San Francisco, many of them former soldiers like himself and/or black. But Walker suffers from severe PTSD, he is increasingly haunted by gruesome flashbacks. As the story progresses, his disillusionment with American society whose values he fought to protect also mounts: The gentrification, the criminalization of the poor, the new war in Vietnam, McCarthyism, racism - he sees a country in decline, and he sees himself in decline. And then there's the memory of Annie, the love of his life, whom he left behind in Nova Scotia when he went to fight in Europe...

It is masterful how Robertson connects the psychological state of Walker and the state of the city around him - the loneliness, the detachment, the collapsing buildings and Walker's collapsing pysche. In many respects, it reminded me of how Rilke has done that in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, the first novel of German literary modernity, which shows many parallels to Robertson's work, even up to the encounter with strangely mythical blind street vendors.

Often, Robertson takes images and metaphors and lets them reappear in different contexts, like fire, illness, or drugs: There are the German soldiers fueled by amphetamines, Walker's dying comrades sedated with morphine, references to heroin (brown/spoon/needle) in L.A., plus there are tons of whiskey - even Walker's boss is named Overholt (and Johnny Walker is mentioned as well).

The whiskey is also central to the whole noirish atmosphere of the book: There are numerous references to jazz and movies (it's L.A., after all), and these references are brilliantly interlocked with the story - e.g., the above-mentioned sedated soldiers have an "M" on their foreheads, and then there are references to the horror/crime movie "M", which was originally created by German director Fritz Lang and re-made in Hollywood in 1951.

I loved how naturally the author works his references, like the coyotes which made me think of Sam Shepherd's True West that also discusses the death of the American dream, or naming Walker's colleague on the city beat "Sherwood", obviously a reference to the great chronicler of the American city, Sherwood Anderson. The aesthetic of the language is dominated though by Robertson's highly evocative prose which creates a strong sense of place and an intense atmosphere.

A wonderful book, to be read and enjoyed slowly like a good glass of whiskey.

Now also available in German: Wie man langsamer verliert. You can learn more about the book in our latest podcast episode.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,777 reviews1,262 followers
June 17, 2019
I've travelled a fair bit. The Canadian Maritimes
that's where I'm from. I know that coastline, down to Maine.
I signed up, trained up in England, then fought in Normandy,
then on through the low countries. Germany
After the war I worked in New York City for eighteen months
and now I'm here. I read all the time. Novels, history,
I'm interested in films and jazz. Cities
'Yes American Cities'
'What about American Cities'
'How they fail'

Now winner of the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the 2018 Goldsmith Prize as well as shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize

The book being short listed for the Goldsmith lead me to re-read as a result but which did not really change my overall views of the book, which I think is very good but not brilliant (the second time through like the first I found myself skipping the parts which read like a Film Noir influenced tour of Los Angeles) and a surprise shortlistee for the Goldsmith as I think it lacked the innovation I associate with that prize.

In respect of the Man Booker however, it was deservedly the only one of the "wider" literary forms on the longlist (graphic novel, crime genre fiction) to make the shortlist.

In this case the literary form is a verse novel (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verse...) - largely written in free verse but in a novelistic form, the book is also heavily influenced by and simultaneously a tribute to Film Noir (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_...).

And it is these features that have persuaded the Goldsmith judges to shortlist - they commented "A noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry, The Long Take is one of the most remarkable – and unclassifiable – books of recent years"

I should say up front that poetry and movies (of any type, let alone a specific area) are two art forms that do not really interest me - and the book even has some jazz music thrown in to complete, for me, an trinity of disinterest.

Further Los Angeles is not a City I have visited (or to be honest wish to visit) and this book is almost encyclopaedic at times in its description of the City in the post war years.

However despite that quadruple handicap I really enjoyed reading this book.

I was perhaps aided in this by a startling and vivid opening stanza, describing the third person narrators experience of sighting New York - a verse which captures an experience and reaction which applies equally 70+ years later and does not dim with repetition on what it is for me a monthly event crossing one of the bridges en route from JFK and catching a first glance at the City.

And there it was: the swell
and glitter of it like a standing wave -
the fabled, smoking ruin, the new towers rising
through the blue
the ranked array of ivory and gold, the glint,
the glamour of buried life
as the world turned around it

Our narrator is Walker, a name which captures rather too well his restless pedestrianism. He is a Canadian veteran of The D-Day landings, and feeling that his experiences and actions there disqualify him from returning to his previous life (and love) in Nova Scotia, decides instead to seek some form of anonymity in New York, before moving on to Los Angeles in 1948 where he finds work and some form of broken community, spending an interim period (1951-1953) in San Francisco before returning to Los Angeles where the book concludes in the next few years.

His experiences in all three cities are interleaved with prose flashbacks to his home in Nova Scotia (written despite their prose style with a poetic flourish)

The smell of stewed tea and wet clothes, smuts from the oil lamps, the valves in the radio like embers, glowing; the penetrating, nevertheless-ending rain - and winter, like a white door closing for six months .... Then the slow retreat of winter. Spring’s advent and reprieve.

and to his experiences in wartime France (written, not surprisingly, in a pared back unadorned style to suit their brutality).

The brief section in New York captures the City beautifully, and my favourite image and one I can relate to my regular evenings in Bryant Park when visiting the City for work, is of a lady reading a book

In the last splinter of sunlight allowed between the skyscrapers
.... moving her chair every quarter of an hour

San Francisco is captured by

He doesn’t deserve this city
its play of height and depth, this
changing sift of colour and weather

But it is Los Angeles that dominates the story.

There he finds work as a newspaper writer, working on the City Desk - covering the increasingly brutal local crime scene. While he is in employment and accommodation, he finds himself drawn to Skid Row (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skid_...) and to the Cities homeless population of veterans, particularly coloured veterans.

His nighttime life is ambulatory, circling the City and watching its denizens, it’s constant cycle of destruction and incessant and insatiable development. He is a frequenter of the Cities bars, observing petty and organised crime, alcoholism and prostitution - these sections are where the Film Noir influence is heaviest and the strongest and recurring imagery is of the contrast of dark and light.

There were parts of the city that were pure blocks of darkness,
where light would slip in like a blade to nick it, carve it open:
a thin stiletto, then a spill of white; the diagonal gash
of a shadow, shearing; the jagged angle sliding over itself
to close; the flick-knife of a watchman’s torch, the long gasp
of headlights from nowhere, their yawning light — then
just as quickly
their fading away:
closed over, swallowed
by the oiled, engraining, leaden dark.

He finds himself drawn to movie lots, outside scenes and to chatting to directors. In what was for me the least interesting part of the book there are copious references (detailed in the closing credits) to actual films, directors and scenes, as well as street by street, district by district detail of the City. Clearly the author has spent huge time on researching these parts and yet I found myself mentally skipping through them.

He persuades his boss to allow him to develop a sideline writing about this group and about the City zoning and expansion policies exacerbating their plight, against a background of Cold War hysteria and McCarthyism with the Korean War adding to the population of discarded and damaged veterans littering the Cities streets (and treated as litter by the Cities authorities in the pocket of property tycoons, crime and oil)

I mean the fact that this is country where there aren’t enough homes,
enough jobs, where one in six Angelenos are ex-servicemen
and they’re lying out on Skid Row -
but all anyone ever talks about us waiting for the Russians,
HUAC locking up half of Hollywood
the government building more bombs
We won’t he war, but we’re living like we lost

Walker we realise is suffering from PTSD and his memories of the war are triggered frequently, for example the July 4th fireworks in New York, the cacophony of construction sites in Los Angeles, the rolling fog in San Francisco.

On his return to Los Angeles, the by now constant destruction of the City to make way for new development, leads to almost constant flashbacks to the violence of the landings and the crimes he sees perpetuated on the City’s black population triggers memories of atrocities he witnessed in the Germans’ desperate last stand.

His own attempts to forget the war and his fond memories of a Nova Scotia to which he feels he can never return, are cleverly contrasted with the constant reinvention of Los Angeles

As he lay in bed, he saw that
trying to forget was the same as trying to remember
A lifetime's work, and damn near impossible
He pulled out a smoke
swallowed what was left in the heel of a bottle
In cape Breton there was just the past
Here in California, they're only thinking about the future -
the past is being town down every day,
so there's no past here to remember

Eventually his own memories of witnessing the massacre of his unarmed colleagues and his personal role in revenging that lead him to a downside spiral

In his room, he worked out where he’s been
from the match books in his pocket,
the drinks by the gap in his dollars,
the hole in his life by his eyes in the broken mirror

And to closing lines which, drawing on the theme of contrast, are as dark to the light of the opening words

I can stop now he said
putting his mouth to the mouth of the bottle
“I’ll make my city here

Overall a memorable, powerful and impressive book, notwithstanding that the central Film Noir concept simply did not resonate for me.

My other criticism may I think, given their other choices, reflect exactly why the Booker judges longlisted it, which is a rather forced resonance with today’s events. I may be wrong but one paragraph of the book struck me as containing some anachronisms (although see the comments below).

This is our fear of ‘the other’
Indians, blacks, Mexicans, Communists, Muslims, whatever
America has to have its monsters
so we can zone them, segregate them
if possible, shoot them
They call this patriotism, Nativism
but it’s racialism, pure and simple. And paranoia
now that America’s gone abroad to fight a war - two wars
we’re frightened, frightened that foreigners
might come over here and do the same to us
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
November 14, 2018
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2018
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

This is my second book from the Booker longlist. I was already aware of Robertson as a poet having heard him on the radio and through a CD called Hirta Songs, a collaboration with the Scottish folksinger Alasdair Roberts that mixed songs and spoken poetry, telling the story of the last inhabitants of St Kilda.

This book is a bold experiment - it has the narrative arc of a novel but it is largely told in free verse. At its centre is a Walker, a veteran of the Normandy landings from Nova Scotia. The book starts in 1946 in New York, then follows Walker to Los Angeles where he finds a job as a newspaper reporter which also takes him to San Francisco, and the story finishes back in Los Angeles in the late 50s. It is largely a tribute to 50s film noir, and is full of film references that would have sailed over my head without the Notes at the end. There is also plenty about the paranoid political atmosphere of 50s America (which has obvious parallels), and the demolition of the older poorer parts of Los Angeles to make space for more car parks and roads.

The foreground story is told almost entirely in verse, this is interspersed with prose fragments, some flashbacks to Walker's experiences in the war and his life in Nova Scotia, and a few dated diary entries.

I am not normally a great reader of poetry but for the most part this was not difficult to follow, though it demands concentration.

I am a little at a loss to know how to compare it fairly with the straighter novels on the list, and will look forward to the forum discussions.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
973 reviews1,198 followers
August 13, 2018
I bloody love long narrative poems, and I wish there were a lot more modern novels in this form. Not sure why I find poetry faster to read - know it isn't the case for everyone. For me, it goes straight into the veins, and it omits the extraneous, leaving only the most vital impressions. Or maybe it's the presentation: shorter lines and more white space on the page make it visually easier to take in.

It was the form that made me keen to read this, but the US setting held little interest. If a prose novel about a demobbed Canadian serviceman adrift in post-WWII America had been longlisted for the Booker, I'd have been in no hurry to get round to it. And if The Long Take had been set anywhere other than North America, I could have seen myself giving it five stars.

I haven't read anything about Robin Robertson yet; it would be interesting to learn why a Scottish poet chose to set a long work there. I have a hunch that the protagonist, Walker, was one of those characters who appears to a writer from the subconscious: a British writer's use of Dad's Army names Walker and Pike for characters who bear little resemblance (other than Pike's youth) to their sitcom namesakes feels like the product of a dream.

The Scottishness of Nova Scotia, where Walker grew up, was a revelation, full of shielings and strathspeys and slaters. (The last of course being a better word than the standard English, reflecting the creatures' hard, flat dark-panelled appearance; 'woodlouse' has always sounded like it ought to mean another, leggier, creepy-crawly.) The place felt Scottish or British even without dialect words: at first in the nostalgic passages about nature, I thought Robertson was writing about Scotland, perhaps from a different viewpoint, maybe his own, and perhaps we would hear later in these sections about the writing process. (There turns out to be no such meta content.) He is at his most vividly poetic and metaphorical when writing about animals and nature - these are largely asides in this book, such as the spider that winches itself from the lampshade in Walker's apartment: were I to read more of his work, it would be nature poetry I'd look for first.

Thank you to this thread for a couple of insights. Firstly, putting me on the alert for elements of contemporary relevance; what jumped out at me, as if it had been highlighted, was the homelessness problem in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, and characters' criticism of the government and media being more concerned with Russians it said Russians rather than Soviets) and McCarthyism than with the housing shortage. A modern feature of the narrative, when set against 1940s attitudes and writing, is that characters are never explicitly described by their race: there were once or twice names that might be Latin, or Native American, and characters who were explicitly stated to be black only once it came up in conversation, in both instances due to racists. (This approach seeks to transmit a sense of comradeship between men in the story as veterans and/or as homeless, regardless of colour, and to imply Walker's progressive outlook, in contrast with some of his contemporaries.) Secondly, a point which is a spoiler if you enjoy working out conundra while you read - but as I read a good chunk of The Long Take whilst I had a headache so bad it hurt even to put my head on a pillow, and could not have read anything very complex, it was simply useful:

The story sometimes felt nebulous, but the final chapter (about 1/3 of the book) pulled it together - and retrospectively it became increasingly obvious that this randomness and half-rootedness, interspersed with episodes of purposefulness, had always reflected Walker's state of mind, as trauma seeped in, even when intrusive memories of horrific army experiences were not at the forefront of his memories. I hadn't bonded with the book until that final third; what led me to was seeing the trajectory of how Walker worked with a group of disadvantaged people with whom he felt an affinity, only to later find his own situation deteriorating so that he gets closer and closer to becoming one of them; to being on the other side of the desk, object not subject. A revelation during that chapter also explains certain points earlier in the story.

But The Long Take is not all psychological drama. It's immersed in the culture of its time. There is jazz. And it is a paean to US film noir of the late 1940s and 1950s, set alongside the messy real lives of some of the men who watched it in movie theaters, and witnessed it being filmed in the streets where they went about their daily lives. It is suffused with references to favourite scenes (the 'long take' is from Joseph H. Lewis' Gun Crazy aka Deadly is the Female), and characters are described as looking like actors of the period. (And at least one, from a 1958 film seems to denote a lapse of time once years stop being mentioned explicitly.) If you like these films this book will probably be rather amazing. I've hardly seen any of the films referenced, yet something is still added in the general understanding, as they conjure visuals for Walker's story in trenchcoat-clad black and white, and in the symbiosis between man and city, Walker disintegrating as 1950s LA becomes less human in scale, more corrupt and more corporate. (I could imagine just how much I'd love an equivalent prose-poem shot through with cinematic movements I know well, such as French New Wave, or British films of the 1960s and 70s. Or, for that matter, classic Ealing films being made on the other side of the Atlantic contemporaneously with these noirs.)

It is an impressive work in pulling together, as poetry and narrative, elements of this era that the public rarely regards together. The modern idealisation of the Greatest Generation, bulldog spirit and so forth disregards the extent to which the war was traumatic for many, and that not everyone could keep calm and carry on, no matter how much they wanted to. Noir and jazz, still seen as epitomes of cool were created against this backdrop. The death of Charlie Parker, born the same year as the protagonist, is starkly announced to make his and the reader's blood run cold. This is echoed (two years) later with the bombshell news "Bogart is dead", like another big bump downwards in Walker's trajectory: an end of an era and an icon of always keeping it together under pressure. In a very subtle way, using history, cinema and music, Robertson appears to be looking at the demands on men to keep up a façade, and how things may be when they can't. (The white men in the book are dealing with war trauma, the black men with that and racial violence.) But interpretation is optional here: this is a story so fully about itself and its setting (absolutely no sledgehammers here) that it also doesn't have to be anything else.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
November 14, 2018
The Long Take is a moody work combining verse and prose to depict a crumbling post-war America. It flickers between protagonist Walker’s present - the New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco of the late 1940s through the 1950s - and his recent past in Europe fighting in WWII, with occasional glimpses of his earlier bucolic home life in Nova Scotia.

The book fairly crackles with atmosphere and noir-ish sensibility. I especially enjoyed the early cityscapes, captured with cinematic vividness. Robertson does that thing that poets do so well, expressing universal ideas in original and perceptive ways. You can just about feel the imagery click into place, as if all the connections were just waiting inside your brain for this precise string of words.

As the narrative goes on, its aperture narrows. The WWII flashbacks become longer and more dominant. The harrowing violence of war, visceral and bloody, is related in emotionally detached prose. Meanwhile, Walker’s 1950s Los Angeles begins to disintegrate along with his mental state. In these latter sections the choices of metaphor and simile seem to me just a touch less inspired - still incredibly vivid, but perhaps not as startlingly original as the language in the first half.

Walker’s inexorable decline is occluded by the ruin and hardship surrounding him. And despite events coming to light about Walker’s past, as a person he is never fully revealed. It’s dark and jaded, and as such is a fitting tribute to the tradition of noir cinema.
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews561 followers
October 5, 2018
Is it prose, poetry, a prose poem, narrative verse, a novel with many artful line breaks ? - I don't know but it is rather beautiful and achingly sad.

The Long Take is many things, a primer on late 1940s early 50s noir film as well as a beautiful evocation of cities in a state of flux. It’s about one man’s descent into post war despair. It also does rather a great job in describing shadows.

he walked the monochrome world of the city, after hours, in the dissipating heat. watching his shadow feed in front of him, tightening under the street light, sidling up each wall then folding into it, bending like a stick slid into water

There are many aspects of this book worth discussing and I suspect plenty to discover in subsequent readings. What resonated with me strongly was it's meditations on loss, particularly of places but also of a certain time period and eventually of self.
Walker, a returned serviceman, is our guide to late forties New York, Los Angelas and San Francisco. It's a lost world he is describing.

Across Alameda street was a whole other country - Chinatown- and Ferguson alley was the door: Hoysing Market, Si Chong, Soochow Restaurant, but he settled for Jerry's Joynt on the corner. A big plate of ribs, a cup of rye and a beer chaser. He'd arrived. Somewhere.

By 1953 ( such a short time later ) Chinatown and Jerry's Joynt are both gone and the book passes into a sad catalog of social decline and the relentless obliteration of history ( The Garden of Allah, the Angelus and Merton hotels, the Hill street tunnels ). These scenes are beautifully intercut with scenes of destruction during the war in Normandy and we witness Walker's own personal decline as he struggles with PTSD and alcoholism. The whole thing taken together is a deeply melancholy experience.

This book is visually informed by so many noir films of the era some of which are described being filmed in the book. Its a lovely experience to look up some of these films as you realise it is the only place where these "lost cities" are still alive, buildings and a way of life preserved now only as backdrops on film. While I enjoyed this filmography as well as the immersion into jazz, I am of two minds about how well this body of research is placed in the novel. At times it did read like a film study or a particularly poetic historical city walking guide.

These are minor misgivings however, this is a stunning achievement and exactly the kind of book I want on my Booker shortlist.
Profile Image for Maddie.
121 reviews47 followers
August 5, 2018
“ I’m interested in films and jazz. Cities.’
‘Yes. American cities.’
‘What about American cities?’
‘How they fail.’ ”

The Long Take is an incredibly raw look at the post-war experience, illustrating the particular trials and tribulations felt after the second world war ended, specifically as the veterans of the war returned to their home countries and tried to rebuild their lives. Written in verse, an epic of mini proportions, Robin Robertson lyrical writing conjures beautiful images of the american cities, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, while discussing the very real issues that arose after the war was over, and that became contemporary in this day and age.

“We won the war, but we’re living like we lost it.” (*)

The story we follow comes from the point of view of Walker, one of the “lucky ones” that managed to survive the war. A canadian from Nova Scotia, Walker can’t bring himself to return home, preferring instead to try and start anew, an attempt to strip himself of the horrors he has lived, done and witnessed.

“ ‘You had a girl back home, in Nova Scotia. You gonna see her again?’
Walker took a long pull on his bottle, tapped out another cigarette, lit it, drew in deeply; blew. ‘I can’t, Billy. The island. My family. Annie. It’s all gone now.’ He stared hard at the floor. ‘I can’t let her see me. What I’ve become.’ ”

“ He could not call her back to his life: which is a horror, which is the dead calf in the bank-head field, a black flap bubbling with maggots, ugly and wrong. ”

It is clear, through instances like the quote below (in a metaphorical way, but there’s also some very real examples of Walker being startled by sudden and loud noises), that Walker is struggling with PTSD, and as the book advances and his journey does too, we begin to get more and more often transported to his recollections of war, narrated to us through the sporadic moments of prove in this otherwise novel in verse.

“ This is not the worst. The worst is the hall of mirrors where you catch sight of yourself, twisted, swollen, unrecognizable. (...) It’s the worst thing in the world, catching sight of yourself. ”

Starting in New York, Walker witnesses for the first time the reality of many veterans who have returned home: with an incredible keen eye and jarring imagery, we get to know the dark side of society, through the image of a city, not only the beautiful, clean and rich side of it, but also, and mostly, the dark corners, the filth and the misery, the prostitution and the abandoned boroughs where most veterans come to live, homeless, after they are unable to reintegrate back into society.

After, he is transported to Los Angeles, where he finds a job working as a journalist to the Press, which in turn lead him to San Francisco. However, Los Angeles truly is the main character in this book; New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco: the cities are characters all of their own, alive, changing, decaying.

“And then he felt a presence behind him. Turning round, he saw the city, stretching out below.”

It was that sense of pulsating atmosphere that really enhanced the experience for me; the idea that the city is always watching, always changing, growing, like a human, falling, crumbling, like Walker does.

“Building and demolition seem to happen here within the span of a human life – so citizens can either watch their own mortal decline, or see themselves outliving their cities.”

“The city is constantly changing, blocks being bought and sold, demolished and rebuilt, so it has no memory: it knows only this timeless present.”

In a text that relies mostly on the beauty of its language, Robertson excels at it spectacularly. Although poetry is not my strongest suit, I have always had the idea that poets have a way with words that excels, seers through the pages and manages to touch the heart of the reader. The Long Take did nothing if not confirm that theory: even if some of the images were shocking and unpleasant, Robin Robertson’s unflinching fragility made it easier to swallow. For example:

“(...) one slash opened the black guy’s buttock like a plum, then this neat stab to the throat and with it a twisting rope so hot it steamed as it splashed on the cobbles; the blood that ran out of him till he ran out of blood.”

Taking this quote to continue the discussion of the book’s themes, besides the issue of homelessness and displacement that, while not in this particular context, will always be a contemporary and, unfortunately, long-lived issue, Robinson also tackles the tensions that follow the war: the 50s and 60s were eras of incredible racial and political tension, particularly in the United States, where the social rights movement made history and the cold war would start to brew. We get glimpses of those important issues in this text, a passage about McCarthyism that really stuck with me:

“ ‘McCarthyism is fascism. Exactly the same. Propaganda and lies, opening divisions, fueling fear, paranoia. Just like the thirties: a state of emergency, followed by fascism, followed by war. You’ve just defeated Hitler. Can’t anyone see you’ve made another, all of your own?’ ”

And if we look at the current political and social climate in the US particularly, right now, we can see how contemporary all these issues are, even if, again, played out with some minor differences:

“ America has to have its monsters, so we can zone them, segregate them, if possible, shoot them. ”

However, what made me think of this novel as an incredibly powerful achievement in portraying the reality of the 50s was the apparent amount of research the writer did in order to make it authentic: long descriptions of the city transport you right back into them, even if you’ve never visited them, even if you can’t know how they look now or in the fifties. But while that shows the amount of dedication and love for the american cities cited above, it can also be a detriment to the book and the reader who isn’t all that interested in the noir and the film era often associated with this period. There are an excruciating amount of little “cameos”, nods to movies and directors and scenes and actors of Old Hollywood, that while charming to those who know them, can just be overwhelming to those who don’t (I fell somewhat in between). Those, at times, kept me from fully enjoying the book and the character's journey. For that reason, I don’t think this is a book for everyone.

I couldn’t complete this review without mentioning another small aspect of this book that completely won me over: the beauty in it isn't exclusive to the prose. As a photography enthusiast, I loved the pictures at the beginning of every chapter, which helped the continuous transportation to another times, another atmosphere.

Overall, The Long Take is a tremendous achievement that should be read and enjoyed, a book that needs the readers full attention and commitment but that, in the end, will absolutely pay off.

(*) All the quotes should be written in verse but for some reason my eBook didn’t retain the format of the text so although the transcribed quotes appear to be written in prose, know this is not how they are presented in the book.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,209 followers
November 14, 2018
'I'm interested in film and jazz. Cities.'
'Yes, American cities.'
'What about American cities.'
'How they fail'

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize and now winner of the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize, The Long Take is, in the author's word, a narrative poem.

The novel, set in the decade after World War II, is narrated Walker, a traumatised Canadian veteran. His reminiscences on the Normandy D-day landings forms a spine to the novel as, in the novel's present day, he drifts from New York to San Francisco and, most significantly, Los Angeles, observing how the latter in particular is developed in the late 1940s and 1950s, and also how American society becomes increasingly suspicious of outsiders, a theme with clear nods to the present day Trump-led USA. Noir movies, both in content but also the very style of the novel play a key part.

In the author's own words from his interview on the Man Booker website:
I wanted to write about an outsider, a Canadian soldier damaged by PTSD, coming to this land of opportunity and finding a country that had won the war but was destroying itself and its people. I was interested in how those years saw the entrenchment of civic corruption and division, and the institutionalisation of the ‘circling the wagons’ philosophy: the deep paranoia about all ‘outsiders’ (including their own black citizens) which has led directly – through McCarthy, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – to the current administration.
The style of the novel drifts from pure poetry to more simply broken prose - what MBI-longlisted The Flying Mountain author Christoph Ransmayr called 'flying lines'.

An example of the latter - as well as the way allusions to noir movies are worked in to the text - comes in the section that gives the novel its title:

The paper said he could try out on movie reviews,
so he went to see Deadly is the Female in the Cameo, or The Star,
one of those theatres next to the Arcade.
He thought about it all night. That long take
inside the getaway car: one shot lasted three minutes easy
and was just real life, right there.

Actually three minutes, twenty seven seconds and one can find the long take here: https://youtu.be/5IUU6w_zvMg

Another feature of the novel - one that left me with ambiguous feelings - is how references like this are explained in an appendix, or 'credits' at the end. It does remove the frustration one can sometimes feel in a novel where one isn't a subject expert, but I did find myself turning to the back too frequently, interrupting the flow of the prose poetry.

The book is at its best when Robinson reverts to more pure poetic descriptions, for example this of San Francisco, that morphs neatly into a description of the Omaha Beach landings in 1944:

The view from the window was Gray, tumbling. The fog,
breaking in waves from the west,
had already taken Russian Hill
and only the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge still stood
above the layer of mist, pouring,
its dry ice into every crack of the city.
The occasional sunbeam like search-lights; the two-tone moan of then l foghorn blowing.
Our boys laid smoke so you could hardly see the beach
and the black dots. Some of the moving;
most of them not.
A sudden blazing, like gas flares from an oil-well, but lateral -
the flame-thrower tanks
burning off the sides of the beach - and you could hear nothing
but the drumfire that beat in our faces,
shivered our ungrounded souls.
Only the sea opened its arms to us
Welcoming, drinking us down.

But too much of the description, particularly of Los Angeles, seems to be a box-ticking list of street names, places and key movie locations. As Walker first is introduced to Los Angeles and travels around the city with two newspaper colleagues he notes:

The map of the city unfolded as they drove, and every day,
at every light or stop-sign he was noting down what he saw:
the theaters, bars and restaurants, hotels, stores,
bus stations, churches, banks and gyms, each street-corner
in every part of town.

And Robertson, at the Man Booker readings, stated that he watched hundreds of noir movies to reconstruct a map of the now-vanished 1940-50s Los Angeles, particularly the Bunker Hill neighbourhood. An impressive feat of mental recreation, but too often represent in the novel by simply noting down what he saw:
the theaters, bars and restaurants, hotels, stores

The other key weakness of the novel for me personallu was that much of it simply failed to grab my attention. My favourite passage of all was this:

One of the boys said Monty had his HQ in some school around here, but we only cared about the Palais and the girls, and it was humming inside, that Saturday night, with the band playing swing tunes nice and loud - Miller, Goodman, Louis Jordan - and the girls so pretty and new.

The school referred to is Colet Court, preparatory school for St Paul's School (and not as the appendix has it, St Paul's School itself), and the location Brook Green, near to Hammersmith Palais, from where it moved with the main school to Barnes in 1968. Why my interest? My daughter attends St Paul's Girl's School, still based at Brook Green.

Similarly I enjoyed the sections set in San Francisco.

But where the novel touched on topics where I had little prior knowledge - 1940s-50s movies, Los Angeles, jazz - it failed to pique my interest. I would contrast this to say Playing Possum or the IFFP winning The Film Explainer, where despite a similar lack of prior knowledge, I found myself looking up the films and other culture referenced.

And as a third weakness, Robinson has simply tried to put in too much, and fails to do it all justice as a result, particularly the rather forced link to present day US isolationism. In his own words from the Booker interview: I threw everything I had into this omnium gatherum of a book.

Although that to be fair did send me on a music research trip - except unfortunately I don't think he meant the Swedish melodic death band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FJlx...

Overall 3 stars at best and I would normally not see it as Booker material. As for the Goldsmiths - well perhaps in a way more suited given the relatively innovative format of the prose, but again one of the weaker books on the list.
Profile Image for Dan.
453 reviews4 followers
October 2, 2018
Robin Robertson’s The Long Take demanded a new type of reading for me. I started reading it as poetry or as Psalms, reading short passages slowly and then immediately rereading them. But at that leisurely pace, I soon realized that The Long Take would dominate my fiction reading for weeks or even months, leading me to spend the entire Booker season on this one novel alone. So while I started slowly, I finished it more rapidly, as a contemplative yet compelling read.

The Long Take is multi-layered: Robertson wraps up so much, so well, and so carefully into his poetry. Starting The Long Take, I viewed it as a lovely ode to the largest and most iconic cities in post-World War 2 America. Robertson’s New York is exciting, seedy, slightly threatening. Robertson writes of an era when summertime air conditioning meant tenement tenants sleeping on their fire escapes or roofs:
”He’d sleep out on the roof, these nights
and stare at this city
that’s too big to measure,
has too many windows to watch.
And nobody sees or cares anyway,
So nothing matters.”

Robertson nails the random details of New York back then:
The trees by the East River have things
snagged in their lowest branches: clothes,
fish-crates, ropes and sacks, bodies sometimes,
people say, trapped there by the tides, the ice.”

And here’s Robertson’s perfect description of Grand Central Station:
”The huge cathedral light angles down
—in the long smoking buttresses—
from the starred blue ceiling to the concourse
and its information booth
ornate in marble and brass,
tiny as a pyx
or a jewelry box.”

The Long Take’s also a portrait of Walker, an emotionally drained Canadian veteran from Nova Scotia, intent on losing himself in the U.S. Walker wanders from New York, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, and then back to Los Angeles. As The Long Take proceeds, it becomes more and more apocalyptic. Walker’s no longer just lost and wandering, he’s deteriorating. As Robertson describes another character, ”I just slipped.” Hired by a newspaper to report on the homeless in San Francisco, he envelopes himself their demi-monde and falls into alcoholism and personal shame at his war. Here’s Walker, in conversation with his friend Billy:
”They talked about San Francisco, about Skid Row, there and here,
then from nowhere he said: ���You had a girl back home,
in Nova Scotia. You gonna see her again?’
Walker took a long pull on his bottle,
tapped out another cigarette, lit it,
drew in deeply; blew. ‘I can’t, Billy.
The island. My family. Annie. It’s all gone now.’
He stared hard at the floor.
‘I can’t let her see me. What I’ve become.’”

Returning from San Francisco to Los Angeles,
”He wanted delirium, and he wanted it now,
taking a standing drink in any bar he could”

Walker’s apocalypse isn’t only personal, it’s also an apocalypse of LA urban renewal:
”’See, it’s all about functionality now,
which is speed, efficiency and profit,
They call it a clean sweep
to eradicate crime—which means blacks—to fumigate
and disinfect the city against disease
—which means the black and the poor—
to demolish slums and blighted areas—which means
the homes and communities of the black and poor and old.’”

The Long Take’s a novel with its flaws, of course, two of which gnawed at me a bit. Robertson’s sense of American cities is good but far from perfect. How could anybody who knows New York, Chicago, or San Francisco write this: American cities have no past, no history. Sometimes I think the only American history is on film.” American cities don’t have the histories of English cities such as London, Oxford, or Cambridge, but American cities do have more recent histories easily accessible to those interested enough to look. Robertson often name-checks period Hollywood films from the 1940s and early 1950s. While these seem to be accurate enough, sometimes it feels as if Robertson is indeed just name-checking them rather than fully incorporating them into his narrative.

The Long Take is a wonderful novel, with musical poetry and many delights. It often succeeds with a cinematic sweep, reminding me especially of Jules Dassin’s 1948 classic The Naked City. 4.5 stars.

Postscript: After you’ve read The Long Take, I recommend watching some of its name-checked films. Viewing the films enhances appreciation of Robertson’s novel, and Robertson’s novel enhances appreciation of the films. Of course, Robertson’s novel is lovely without the films, and the films are lovely without Robertson’s novel.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews878 followers
October 15, 2018
Hmm. I seem to be in the minority in not being completely enamored with this novel in verse, though in a lot of ways it's certainly an impressive feat. Robin Robertson's writing is elegant and immersive, the tone is achingly sad, and he uses the form to explore a myriad of subjects - PTSD, the development of post-war America, the advent of cinema... There's a lot of content packed into this little book, but while I found myself impressed by many aspects of it, there was also something a bit empty about the whole thing.

So much of this endeavor is just very on the nose. The protagonist, Walker, is suffering from PTSD, so how do we show that? By interrupting the narrative with snippets of his flashbacks to the war. One of the central themes is the downside of the extreme modernization of Los Angeles that occurred in the 1950s, so how do we show that? By the characters narrating the ways in which the modernization of Los Angeles is negatively affecting their community. I think I just wanted this to be longer and more nuanced. There's so much going on in this book, but it's all there for you to see right on the surface.

This is ordinarily the sort of book I'd want to reflect on for a day or two before writing a review, but with the Booker announcement tomorrow I'm racing against time, so I will admit up front here that my thoughts on this may evolve over time, for better or worse. I also want to admit that I read this in very punctuated bursts over the span of a week which is just about the worst possible way to read a book like this - if you can, I'd implore you to try to finish it in one or two sittings - so that may have clouded my experience with it. And I did really enjoy it, for the most part; I just didn't quite feel the magic.
Profile Image for Michelle.
651 reviews181 followers
April 30, 2019
Finalist for 2019 Man Booker Prize
Longlisted for the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

Initial thoughts:
Really impressed with how Robertson tackled the issues of war, xenophobia, urban sprawl through a historical lense. His presentation as a novel in verse with flashbacks, letters, and news clippings was unlike anything I've seen. The descriptions gave the novel a cinematic feel. I am glad I came across Simon's post on the Walter Scott Prize.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews638 followers
September 30, 2018
UPDATE: Now re-read after its inclusion on the Goldsmiths shortlist and confirmed as a 5 star read. This time I found it even more poetic and devastatingly heartbreaking in its depiction of a man struggling with PTSD and in its depiction of racism in post-war America. Maybe more to come when I get back from holiday and am not typing on my phone.


It is hard to comprehend the horror of war if you have not experienced it. I know it is beyond me. In WWII, millions of people died, others survived. But there were no lucky ones. The Long Take is the story of one survivor on a journey across America carrying the damage inflicted on him by the war. It is a novel told in a mixture of free verse and prose. It opens in New York in 1946 with a perfect example of the kind of poetry that will flow over the next 200 or so pages:

And there it was: the swell
and glitter of it like a standing wave –
the fabled, smoking ruin, the new towers rising
through the blue,
the ranked array of ivory and gold, the glint,
the glamour of buried light
as the world turned round it
very slowly
this autumn morning, all amazed.

Our protagonist, Walker, is unsettled. We quickly realise he is suffering from what we would now understand as PTSD and this pushes him on. He is a Canadian veteran who was part of the D-Day landings and he believes he cannot go home given the things he has seen and done. The narrative is interspersed with his memories of home.

The story takes us to three cities (Cities are a kind of war, he thought: sometimes very far away then, quickly, very close.). From New York we travel to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Los Angeles is the dominant city and it is where Walker gets a job as a newspaper writer and finds himself drawn to the city’s homeless veterans. He becomes especially good friends with a black man called Billy (there are several episodes in the story that talk about racism and the treatment of black people including one especially shocking comment from another reporter towards the end). 
Always, Walker is haunted by what he saw in the war and the text is also interspersed with his memories of battles and atrocities he witnessed or was part of. We begin to understand why he is struggling mentally.

The narrative contains a lot of references to the movies, especially to film noir that was popular at the time. My son has a degree in Film Studies and spent some time studying film noir. He and I watched several movies together including some of the ones referenced here. The ideas of film noir permeate the text:

He walked the monochrome world of the city, after hours,
in the dissipating heat
watching his shadow feed in front of him, tightening
under the streetlight, sidling up each wall
then folding into it, bending like a stick
slid into water.


There were parts of the city that were pure blocks of darkness,
where light would slip in like a blade to nick it, carve it open:
a thin stiletto, then a spill of white; the diagonal gash
of a shadow, shearing; the jagged angle sliding over itself
to close; the flick-knife of a watchman’s torch, the long gasp
of headlights from nowhere, their yawning light – then
just as quickly
their falling away:
closed over, swallowed
by the oiled, engraining, leaden dark.

There is also a lot of jazz music referenced. Again, I grew up with a father who was obsessed with jazz music from this era - he even took me to see Oscar Peterson once. O.P. played the piano so well that it made me cry. And he is the man who reportedly cried when he watched Art Tatum, who is referenced here.

So, I am not an expert by any means, but I am a fan of both film noir and jazz. For me, they both added to the atmosphere of the book. And they definitely added to my personal enjoyment of it.

This is the story of a good man struggling to either carry or escape from a past sin for which he cannot forgive himself. At times, the poetry of the writing is reminiscent of Denis Johnson, one of my personal favourites.

I thought this was a heartbreaking and beautiful work of art with plenty to say about our modern world.

At least in the war there was some common purpose –
in the same boat, all in it together, y’know?
Now here we are, in our own country
scrambling over each other, just
trying to stay afloat.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,068 reviews1,093 followers
July 21, 2020
Faulkner meeting Steinbeck, meeting Döblin, meeting Capote, …
Honestly, not my cup of tea. I love a demanding read, and I love poetic prose. But this didn't really work for me. I recognized the story of the unsettling return of a World War II veteran, incapable of finding his way back to normal life, traumatized by what he saw back in Normandy in 1944. And I recognized the evocation of America at the end of the 40’s and the beginning of the ’50s, with its scores of homeless people, its great urbanistical works, and its tremendous violence between criminal gangs.

But then there’s the connection between the horrible war scenes, the brutal scenes of demolition of neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, and the description of mutilated victims of gang violence. In contrast there are the very intense and intimate nature descriptions. Is Robertson suggesting the violence in all these actions is on the same level? And is he hinting with this towards a meta-level of criticism on the violence of modernity? It’s positive the author doesn’t suggest clear answers, but – as a reader – I’m a bit at a loss.

At times, Robertson poetic prose led to beautiful passages, expressing existential anguish and bewilderment. And this novel reminded me of the urban fever of Alfred Döblin in Berlin Alexanderplatz, the modernist disruptive style of William Faulkner in Sanctuary, the social focus of John Steinbeck in Tortilla Flat, and the gang scenes of Truman Capote in In Cold Blood. That are no small references, for sure. But – to me – the mix didn’t really work. Maybe it's the film noire character of this story (many references to the Hollywood film scene too) that's standing in the way. I guess I ought to try a second read.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
986 reviews130 followers
August 25, 2018
This is another fantastic Man Booker longlist pick. Moody and atmospheric, this poetry perfectly captures 1950s LA noir. A WWII veteran suffering guilt and PTSD travels to LA as it undergoes the changes that make it into a modern city of roads, parking lots, and homeless soldiers. Interspersed with flashbacks of the war, language is used expertly to evoke post-war America with its racism, fear of communism, and race to modernize.
Profile Image for Claire.
823 reviews176 followers
September 22, 2018
There is so much going on in this book, and all of it is good. The Long Take is so deserving of its place on the 2018 Man Booker Shortlist. I was hesitant about reading this- I’m always wary of extended narratives written in verse. I often find it gimmicky; that either the form or narrative suffers. This is not the case with The Long Take.
This book is about many things: post-war America, the veteran experience, isolation, poverty, and most interestingly to me, the life of cities. As an unapologetic, dedicated city girl, this part of the narrative really spoke to me. I love how the protagonist Walker sees cities as living entities, with stories, and hearts, and life cycles. A place is more than just a setting or a framework, it’s a character. Robertson is nuanced and insightful in discussion of all his major themes, but it was the analysis of the cities which spoke to me most.
How does Robertson tie all these big ideas together? For me, this was a story about crumbling and failure. But in spite of this, in the end I was reminded that all success is born of failure, and that it is in being broken and failing the we truly know ourselves.
Profile Image for Katia N.
585 reviews661 followers
February 26, 2019
There is no shortage of good reviews of this book as it was shortlisted for the Booker prize 2018 and the winner of the Goldsmith's prize. So I would not go in details through main themes and characters. Instead, below are just are few of my thoughts.

It is quite an unusual novel. Not only it is in verse, but it is the opposite of a script in a way. Normally, I imagine, when a movie is being produced, it is being initially scripted in a scenario. Also, if it is a historical movie, the relevant records, photos and the artefacts would be taken into the account. So the movie would appear as a result of a written script. What we have here is just the reverse: Robertson was watching a lot of films-noir of the 50s taking actions in California, especially in LA. And he subsequently translated into a verse what he has seen to recreate the atmosphere of the disappearing city and its inhabitants, destroyed by the reckless city planners and modernity. The result is very visual, dynamic poetry which creates the moving imaginary in one's mind rather than thoughts - I could almost split it into separate frames. This was impressive. For example:

In the last splinter if sunlight allowed between the skyscrapers
an old lady is sitting with a book,
moving her chair every quarter of an hour
a little farther down the alleyway.

Forgetting vs remembering a certain traumatic historical experience, both on the individual level and on the level of a group of people. The main character, Walker is a young man and a former soldier. He struggles with the post traumatic disorder caused by what he has seen and what he has done during the Second World War. He tries hard but cannot get rid off his demons.

And it reminded me of the broader issue. In the aftermath, what is better? To keep a collective memory of the event or to let it slip and, sometimes, even to encourage forgetting for the sake of reconciliation in a society? I've read recently a brilliant essay by David Rieff In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies. He argues the forgetting should play bigger role and the remembering is not always as beneficial as some make us to believe. It is a difficult and interesting argument. But Walker finds out his own truth:

As He lay in bed, he saw that
trying to forget was the same as trying to remember.
A lifetime work, and damn near impossible.

This book was another example how the order in which we read books affect our opinion. I've just read in January Three Poems which was absolutely brilliant and resonated with me a lot. Though The Long Take is quite different - it is a novel in verses rather than just long poems and the subject matter is different- but Three poems overshadowed this one for me still. The verse per se was not that elegant and sophisticated in comparison. I bet, I would appreciate The Long Take even more if not for my fresh memory of the Sullivan's book.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
269 reviews57 followers
August 29, 2018
Oh, another gem from this year's Man Booker longlist. In this novel length poem, a Canadian WWII veteran is trying to rebuild his life while haunted by the fear that he has lost part of himself forever. From New York, to L.A., to San Francisco, he finds a country that seems to believe it has moved on from the war that he can't forget, but there is clearly fear at the root of all of the consumerism and commercialization. A beautiful, brooding book that I would recommend to anyone. Even if you think you are afraid of poetry! Booker 8/13
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
538 reviews99 followers
August 24, 2018
There are many ways to approach writing a review of The Long Take.
It’s a great, multi faceted work of fiction and one that is a novel, in a conventional sense, rather than poetry dressed up as prose. This despite the book’s livery describing it as ‘Picador Poetry” and despite the fact that Robin Robertson has an established, an esteemed, reputation writing poetry.

I particularly liked the fact that The Long Take provided a number of easily understood points of reference. I’m not American, but my feel for the nation emerging in the post World War Two period was not compromised by having only a tourist’s knowledge of New York, and of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
This is the America of rapid building, of construction, and the motor car. It’s not always pretty, it’s certainly not fair, and the losers, the victims, as America pushed for growth, included the recently demobbed war veterans returned from the European theatre of war.
Walker, our eyes, and our assimilator of the sprouting cities; and Billy ‘Idaho’, are utterly realistic and compelling characters in a fateful personal drama.
The Long Take is a homage to the glorious days of American cinema (and the inspiration for the book’s title); the film noir of glamour and style , but the book also points to the America that bulldozed its unwanted to the periphery. Nothing glamorous there.
At the book’s conclusion I remained uncertain whether Robertson’s examination of the East and West coast of America is a paean to the vibrancy of the city, or a rueful lament when offset against the natural beauty of Walker’s hometown Cape Breton; Prince Edward Island; Lake Ainslie in native Canada
Billy observes (110) I’m telling you friend, this city’s , getting ready to blow”. Interestingly Guy Gunaratne makes the same point about London sixty years later in a book also long-listed in the Booker 2018 Prize In Our Mad and Furious City

There are parts of The Long Take that I like for the obscurity, requiring each reader’s personal interpretation.
• What does Pike(sville) symbolise?
• ditto the Coyote(108)?
• Holes, of all sorts, appear. Holes in the water.. a strange image.

Robin Robertson pens numerous lines that stand alone as words of wisdom, and with acute observation.
”Everyone’s beautiful when they are sixteen”(89)
Of California: “A crude travesty of childhood happiness: a pageant of loss”(134)
The police helicopter, hanging there like a wasp.(220)
“Nature- a resurrection we can believe in”(184)

There are parts of The Long Take that I like for its scholarship, it’s research. Two very different examples include
1. Trump’s America and the parallels with post war America (of McCarthyism). Walker describing post war America:
This is our fear of the other- Indians, blacks, Mexicans, communists, Muslims, whatever- America has to have its monsters(109).
Robertson specifically names Trump in his end notes, and makes a direct link to Joseph McCarthy (notes to page 162)

2. Malcom Lowry’s Under The Volcano
I can’t imagine that it’s coincidence that Robertson was fiction editor at Jonathan Cape, the same publishing house that ultimately supported Malcolm Lowry. Under The Volcano, with its portrayal of the decline into alcoholism, of death, and fighting, is a clear inspiration for The Long Take. It was published in 1947, and of Billy’s prized book possessions, Lowry is the only author he names, and quotes directly“You like this garden? Why is it yours? We evict those who destroy” (51)

Los Angeles and Mexico. Not so different.

The more I read of The Long Take, the more I liked it. After reading eleven long list contenders I think Robin Robertson has every chance of winning the Man Booker Prize 2018.
Profile Image for David.
602 reviews128 followers
August 20, 2018
Wow. I just got knocked down by this book and suspect I'll be seeing stars for quite some time. I'm a bit dazed and a lot dazzled. This Man Booker longlist entry seems to have all the elements one expects from a winner:

Creative and masterful manipulation of form and content.

Beautiful, evocative language (in this case applied to descriptions of bucolic Nova Scotia, modern warfare, urban sprawl, physical devastation, and a shattering of the soul.)

Layer upon layer of nuance and allusion without loss of focus or meaning.

A surface story that is itself fascinating - spanning 1945 to 1958 - but which acts as the portal to a much deeper exploration of the ills which plague us today:

Failure to support returning veterans of war
The criminalization of the mentally ill
Widening income disparity
The resurgence of Fascism
The prevalence of Racism
The persistence of anti-Semitism
The role of national paranoia in the promotion of xenophobia
The objectification of women in the social and professional realms
The destruction of the environment
Political and Governmental corruption
Pandering to corporate interests over civil need

Each of these themes is highlighted through metaphor. As Los Angeles crumbles around its people, there is this reference to one's own sense of insignificance and succumbing to despair:

"The dust falls everywhere, filling the long sunbeams with its gray sift; collecting in the glasses, the ice-trays, so every drink swims with it. He could see it, when he held his whiskey to the light, hanging there and drifting to the bottom, where it didn't matter anymore."

As natural habitat is uprooted and supplanted by utilitarian structures, we are reminded of the spiritual losses which follow:

"Building and demolition seem to happen here within the span of a human life - so citizens can either watch their own mortal decline, or see themselves outliving their cities. This is why I miss the island. Nature. We love nature because it dies, and then comes back to life. A resurrection we can believe in."

And there is a bold and direct warning to any society that tolerates even subtle tyranny:

"McCarthyism is facsism. Exactly the same. Propaganda and lies, opening divisions, fueling fear, paranoia. Just like in the thirties: a state of emergency, followed by fascism, followed by war. You've defeated Hitler. Can't anyone see you've made another, all of your own?"

Just in case the parallels between America in 1954 and 2018 are not clear, Robertson helps the reader connect the dots in a footnote to page 162: "(Joseph) McCarthy's legal adviser was Roy Cohn... In the 1970s, Cohn was the friend, mentor, and legal adviser to Donald Trump."

The most fascinating metaphor, however, is that of the cinematic long take: the filmmaker's Holy Grail. As applied here by Robertson, it seems to suggest one's ability to stand in a place of brokenness while looking far into a future of possibility and wholeness. For Walker and his comrades, this proves tragically elusive.

I do have a few limited cavils. The journal entry sections in Manhattan feel far too poetic to pass for the voice of Walker at that point in his life. And I agree with GR friend Dan Friedman who points out that the litany of film noir classic scenes referenced in the central sections can feel a bit like window dressing. The descriptions of noir technique and the chiaroscuro of that moody genre, however, do not. Robertson's myriad renditions of Light and Shadow bind the reader to Walker as he loses himself in the threatening chaos of several undisciplined cities.

Ultimately "The Long Take" is a deceptively poetic treatise on the parlous state of our world today. It is also, ironically enough, an American novel in everything but the nationality of its author. Is this the next Man Booker winner? I think it quite possible.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
666 reviews3,234 followers
October 13, 2018
Robin Robertson is a Scottish writer who has published several successful collections of poetry. His book “The Long Take” is described on the inside flap of the dust jacket as “a noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry.” I'm all for cross-genre novels and blended forms of writing. I don't think categorization of books makes an impact on the actual reading experience. But I do get slightly anxious when self-proclaimed poets write books which are classified as novels as I described in my post about Katharine Kilalea's debut novel “OK, Mr Field” because sometimes the lyricism of the language used can overwhelm the narrative. Robertson's story follows a WWII veteran named Walker who feels like he can't return to his home in Canada because the war changed him. Instead he treads the streets of NYC and cities in California where he becomes a journalist investigating the homeless and other dispossessed broken individuals who are churned under the wheels of progress. Interspersed with his conversations and encounters are italicised recollections of his time in battle and with his family. It forms a powerful portrait of an individual haunted by the bitter truth of war who casts a skeptical eye on a country determined to progress forward while forgetting the past and its downtrodden people. The narrative is formed like an epic poem but completely works as a novel with many breathtakingly beautiful passages.

Read my full review of The Long Take by Robin Robertson on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Krista.
1,368 reviews544 followers
October 11, 2018
The paper said he could try out on movie reviews, 
so he went to see
Deadly is the Female in the Cameo, or the Star, 
one of those theatres next to the Arcade. 
He thought about it all night. That long take 
inside the getaway car: one shot lasted three minutes easy 
and was just real life, right there.

The Long Take is another Man Booker shortlist title that I wouldn't have picked up if not for its place on that list; another book this year that challenges my idea of what makes a “novel”. Written as a book-length free verse poem – as were all the great epics – not only do the short stanzas and plenty of white space on the page make for eye-friendly reading, but because it was written by multiple award-winning poet Robin Robertson, the writing is able to pack an abundance of mood and meaning into every carefully crafted line. In the moment, I found this to be a very engaging reading experience, but in retrospect, I have to wonder if maybe this was a little too crafted; a little too tricksy.

Walker (just Walker) is a PTSD-suffering D-Day veteran, freshly demobbed, and finds he simply can't return to his Cape Breton home; not after what he has seen; not after what he has done. Travelling first to NYC and eventually to LA (from where he decamps to San Francisco for a couple of years), the would-be writer eventually gets a job at the City Desk of a newspaper; specialising in movie reviews and exposés on these cities' underclasses. Identifying best with the indigent ex-servicemen, Walker spends most of his free time drinking hard with them on Skid Row, and as the years go by (1946 – 57) and he watches the flophouses and fleabag hotels of L.A. (his friends' homes) be razed for freeways and parking lots, his own mental state seems also to be crumbling, brick-by-brick. This is all done fairly subtly and we meet a lot of interesting characters who deserve better from their government.

As for the format, Walker is constantly moving through the present in prose-like poetry, but just about anything can trigger a memory – either of his happy life with the girlfriend he loved in Cape Breton, or some horrifying memory of landing at Normandy and what followed – and these are inserted in italics. And as a budding writer, sometimes Walker's bolded literary observations are included as well, making for pages that look like this:

5:30, Sunday morning,
a man with a hose preceded him up Main Street,
fanning an aisle through the Styrofoam, food wrappers,
cigarette packets, torn shirts, snapped stilettos, and the sour mulch
of broken glass, blood, and butts and sick –
moving like a priest with a censer,
hosing the center down.

The rating with the bilge-bucket is swilling off the puke, and what was left of Joe McPherson who hadn't timed it right, his jump from the nets to this landing craft below.
Sunlight blooms in one window – five – ten – twenty – fifty – and the city was a field of standing light.
April, 48

("mulch" isn't supposed to be on its own line there, but it won't fit properly in this review.) This did not feel gimmicky, and I liked the format very much (ultimately, it didn't really feel like reading poetry; I probably need a better definition of “poetry”.) Walker spends most of his time, er, walking, and whether in NY, LA, or Frisco, he is constantly naming and describing streets, neighbourhoods, and the significant buildings that were there at the time. He also watches countless films (even watches them being filmed when he can), and their titles (and many of the actors that he namedrops) were fairly obscure to me. At one point Walker writes, “American cities have no past, no history. Sometimes I think the only American history is on film.” So while the listing of street and film names became a bit repetitive to me, I can appreciate that Robertson was likely trying to bring life back to this history; the history of streets and old buildings and the films in which they can still be seen. (As an added bonus, the book contains many lovely black and white photos of these old spaces.)

Beyond the poor treatment of returning war veterans, The Long Take is a very political book – describing greed and corruption at City Hall, racism (from segregated troops to Emmet Till and Rosa Parks), common disbelief at entering a new war in Korea. Writing often about shadows and light, keeping the action at the edges of polite society, Robertson pulls off the literary equivalent of film noir and there's an oppressive sense of pessimism that seems to belie the official Happy Days memory of these times. (Walker's boss at the newspaper declares, “We won the war, but we're living like we lost it.”) And because this is mostly set in the LA of the time, and because Walker is so interested in the movies, Joseph McCarthy and his HUAC witch-hunt are malevolently hovering over everything:

McCarthyism is fascism. Exactly the same. Propaganda and lies, opening divisions, fueling fear, paranoia. Just like the thirties: a state of emergency, followed by fascism, followed by war. You’ve just defeated Hitler. Can’t anyone see you’ve made another, all of your own?

To ensure that the parallels to modern day America are obvious, Robertson notes in the “Credits” at the end that Senator McCarthy's legal adviser was Roy Cohn, and in the 1970s, Cohn was a friend, mentor, and legal adviser to Donald Trump. Ah, so there's the real point of it all then (which, in interviews, Robertson confirms: McCarthyism led directly to the current administration). I like that Robertson chose a Cape Bretoner as this book's main character – the nonpartisan witness to the effects of America's postwar, hyper-Capitalistic, greed and corruption years – and I particularly identified with Walker as I spent time this summer exploring his highlands homeland, from Broad Cove to Chéticamp; just exactly as described (maybe the point is that some paradises don't get paved over to put up a parking lot?). Ultimately, I found the parallels to modern day America to be a bit too overt, I found the constant street and film names to be tiresome (even if a worthy act of commemoration), but there were many, many fine scenes – related in this engaging jump scene format – and the overall mood and ethos were masterfully accomplished by a practised poetic hand. I don't think I loved this book, and I only grudgingly acknowledge it as a “novel”, but I can't really give it fewer than four stars.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book151 followers
September 11, 2019
“The bird has gone from the branch
but he reconstructs it from its after-image,
what he remembers of its song.”

A very sad book for me. It’s the story of a WWII veteran struggling with PTSD, about people living on the streets after the war, and about the destruction of cities—the ripping apart of the places where people lived their lives-- in the name of progress. I told you it was sad.

The style, however, is a breath of fresh air amidst the sadness. It is a poem in novel form, told in verse and with the emotional impact of poetry.

It takes place between 1946 and 1953, primarily in Los Angeles. I was almost but not quite alive during this time, still the story made me feel so much nostalgia for the past and for a way of life that was lost.

This was the time period of the beat poets, so I suppose it’s fitting that I am left with this morose attitude, wearing my black sweater and beret, snapping my fingers for this one.
Profile Image for Nicky.
185 reviews22 followers
August 30, 2018
4.5* rounded up. Thoughts to follow once I get my head around it and after I see the author in person next week (it was pretty bleak but great).

Updated 30/8: After seeing an interview, hearing Robin Robertson read in his dramatic Scottish accent and speaking to him about this book and other’s I give all the stars. 5**
I really feel I need to read this again with his voice in my head and appreciate all the little nuances and themes he discussed.

These were his thoughts that struck me the most:
- This time representing the end of the American Dream. i.e. pulled into a war they were trying to avoid, then followed by Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Trump (his words ;-)).

- He needed to get Walker to LA as it is a “hopeless city, a place of despair”and described the veterans as "tattered flags in the sand" - the last of a community, banded together to try find that camaraderie they had in the trenches. They preferred the streets as “before” (purity) was a place they no longer deserved to be due to the sins of war.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,989 reviews703 followers
September 3, 2018
I'm generally not fond of poetry, but this transcends the genre in not getting overly flowery in its language, and having a strong narrative drive. I really liked the noirish elements, and especially enjoyed the glimpse of my native San Francisco around the same time I appeared on the scene there as a baby (yay shout-out to Spenger's Fish Grotto, may it RIP). I could have done without some of the more gruesome passages, especially the war scenes, but appreciate why they were necessary. Don't have much more to say about it... I suspect as one of the few 'masculine centered' nominations, it will make the Booker shortlist, with which I am in agreement, but since it is not 'really' a novel, I don't think it should win.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
December 12, 2019
There was a blur of neon as he fell,
headlong, into his own shadow,
a shadow the length and breadth of him.

The city was watching. He got up. Walked.
When he stopped, so did the footsteps,
so he couldn't stop: he just had to keep moving.

A few lights still on.
Hall lights shining through the stained-glass windows,
each porch a tiny sunset.

He's like the faded lettering on old buildings, old advertisements
for things you can't buy, that aren't made any more:
ghost signs.


The coyote was watching.
Tail bushed out - held straight out.
In its eyes, the stolen fire.

Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,822 followers
April 2, 2019
I really liked this. A very strong and powerful novel in verse, exploring the aftermath of WWII. The form was unique and clever and the examination of that time in American history fascinating.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,212 reviews35 followers
October 1, 2018
Poetry and the Second World War - two things I often struggle with in books. I needn't have worried. The Long Take is a stunning look at how the War impacted upon one man, Walker, a Canadian soldier who was demobilised after fighting in Normandy. Dreading the prospect of going home to rural Nova Scotia, we follow Walker as he moves to New York, and later LA and San Francisco, and experience his PTSD (flashbacks to which increase as the story progresses).

I think the poetic telling of the story worked incredibly well - I've really read nothing else like this. While I didn't love this as much as The Mars Room, I wouldn't be mad if it won the Booker.
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