Apeirogon by Colum McCann - review by Nick Major

Nick Major

To Infinity & Back



Bloomsbury 463pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

In 1974, Philippe Petit secured his tightrope between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and walked across the sky. Well, that’s probably what it seemed like to the onlookers below. Colum McCann fictionalised Petit’s balancing act in his 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin. Petit turns up in his latest novel too. In 1987, Petit strung a steel wire across the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem. Dressed as a court jester, he walked across it and released a peace dove. The bird promptly sat on his head and then proceeded to go for a walk.

McCann tells us that in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war a metal cable also ran across the valley. It was used to transport injured Israeli soldiers and medical equipment through a pulley system. In biblical times, Hinnom was where ritual sacrifice took place and was, supposedly, where you could find the gates of hell. It is also where Judas bought his Field of Blood and where he hanged himself.

Apeirogon is full of factual digressions like these. Many of them are avian. We learn, for example, about the variety of birdlife in the Middle East, what François Mitterrand ate just before he died (an ortolan bunting) and that the Israel Defense Forces used the frigate bird’s flight patterns to

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