Book review: & Sons by David Gilbert

& Sons by David Gilbert& Sons: What it is about

From the publishers: “The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years—before it’s too late.

So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand. But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.”

& Sons: What I thought

I read this book for my book group after Ciska (also in the book group) recommended it. I had to read this big tome in a too short amount of time, and that did not help my enjoyment.

There was a lot going on in the book, but the biggest problem was the (sole and unreliable) narrator. He knew everything! He was obsessed with another family, that he had known all his life, because their fathers had been childhood friends. He recounted conversations that he had not been privy to, whole scenes that happened without him being present, even scenes that happened in the past, between the fathers.

When I first realised this, it felt wrong, but soon I got used to the narration. Only, at no point could the reader be sure that what he was being told, actually happened like that, or actually happened, period. So, how much of the story, if anything, is true, is anyone’s guess. Weird, weird, but also interesting.

That was the interesting thing about the book. Well, the story itself was also quite good, with family secrets being revealed. Unfortunately, I got confused with the characters and lost track of what was going on, on occasion. First of all, there was this narrator, who in my mind could not be the same narrator throughout. So, before I realised it was the same person, telling us his version of events rather than the actual events, I had mixed up Phillip (the narrator) with Richard. The second problem was that the main characters all had very common names: Phillip, Richard, Jamie, Andrew. That didn’t help matters!

Also, parts of the book were about the past, when Phillip, the narrator could not have been present, and I took this to be happening in the current time.

So, another, more careful reader (or someone who is warned in advance), has a better chance of following exactly what happens. I was in a hurry to finish before book group night and rather confused by the narration. But Ciska explained it all. 🙂

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (okay to good; a more careful reader may give 4+ stars)

Number of pages: 454

First published: 2013

I got this: bought it in a physical book store

Genre: Contemporary fiction


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

5 Responses to Book review: & Sons by David Gilbert

  1. Joanna says:

    I must say, Judith, that this sounds fascinating because it seems complicated, confusing and annoying. I’ve read a few too many straight-up stories recently and wouldn’t mind something different. It reminds me that I still haven’t finished 2666 which I started when I had Mersina. May go back to that too.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Joanna, 2666, oh no! That was quite the read! I somehow got drawn into organising a readalong (see readalong of 2666) of that monstrous tome a few years ago, so I had to finish it, whether I wanted to or not. It was intriguing but also SO annoying! &Sons is definitely the easier read.

  2. Laurie C says:

    This has been on my TBR list for a while now. I’d been thinking about trying it on audio, but maybe it would be better to read it in print to be able to refer back to earlier parts of the book.

  3. I didn’t really get on with & Sons – some parts were very clever but I also lost track of the characters and story in the second half.

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