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Everyone is Watching by Megan Bradbury. Book review

July 25, 2017

Everyone is watching

In the late nineteenth-century, poet Walt Whitman travels with his friend and biographer Robert Maurice chronicling his life. In the 1920s Robert Moses has a vision of transforming New York into a modern city. In the 1960s Robert Mapplethorpe begins a career which will lead him to produce some of the most iconic images of the twentieth-century and the some of the most controversial. In the twenty-first century writer, Edmund White, returns to New York, remembering his hedonistic youth and finds a changed city.

Like the descriptions of the photographs interspersing the main protagonists lives capturing moments frozen in time, the narratives of these men are sequenced like snapshots of life in New York in different eras.

Like the photographs, some of the stories are told in close up (Walt Whitman), while others are narrated in a way that makes you feel you are seeing New York from a much wider perspective (Robert Moses). This adds to the subtlety of the sparse text and the short, episodic stories of each of these men’s lives.

Yet despite the economy of words Megan Bradbury’s writing makes reading and the visualization of the vibrancy of New York effortless, as well as creating a sense of immersion and involvement of the stories which unfold.

Bradbury is fearless in her descriptions of Mapplethorpe’s explicit photographs and the lives of the gay community in New York. However it is Moses who feels like a forceful intrusion and appropriately so as the man considered to be the “master builder”, driving through construction with brutal energy and disregard for the human cost. It is probably why his story is told from the most removed viewpoint, and why poet Whitman’s account of the effects of man waging war against man is told on such an intimate scale.

Bradbury’s research has been meticulous, but does not get in the way of the story. Instead there is a sense of being guided through New York by someone who really has got right to the core of the relationship these people had with the city and how they and it changed.

Everyone is Watching was courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley.

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2 Comments
  1. Very interesting. Would you say this felt more like a collection of short stories since the narrative is episodic or that they are all more cohesive with the connection of New York City running through them? Great review!

    • Thank you.
      There is connectivity within each of the periods and sometimes between the different personalities. The contrasts between the mind sets of the characters also creates an interesting comparison of viewpoints, gentle Walt Whitman and aggressive Robert Moses being at the extremes of the spectrum. But there are other subtleties to the writing which tie the work as a whole together, but are so cleverly done that you don’t think about them unless you take your time in reading Everyone is Watching.
      I’ll be interested to see what she does next.

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