The Second Coming by Garth Risk Hallberg - review by Sarah Moorhouse

Sarah Moorhouse

Trip in Time

The Second Coming

By

Granta Books 608pp £20
 

When The Second Coming was published in the United States in the spring, almost all critics agreed that it was too long. Garth Risk Hallberg has faced this charge before. When his first novel, the period epic City on Fire, came out in 2015, Louis Menand, writing in the New Yorker, decreed that it was, at 944 pages, ‘about four hundred pages too long’. Even though he has taken on Menand’s feedback – his second novel weighs in at 608 pages – Hallberg has not yet arrived at the sweet spot for most critics.

Yet it’s tempting to defend the scale of his work. Hallberg has named David Foster Wallace and James Joyce among his models, and his books offer a contrast to the neatly packaged three-hundred-pager, easily digestible on a beach holiday or bank holiday weekend. For those who make it through The Second Coming, there are rich rewards. Much has been made of Hallberg’s talent; he was reportedly paid a $2 million advance for City on Fire, and his linguistic virtuosity has been widely admired. Evidence of this abounds in The Second Coming, as in this sentence, in which Ethan Aspern, one of the narrators, greets a woman:

But something about her greeting felt performative, like he’d come from the far side of the earth, rather than of the lawn, and indeed, when she let him past, there was a third person in the vaulted kitchen, a buzz-cut millennial in a pink polo shirt thumbing around on an

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