Posts tagged ‘John O’Hara’

The inevitable future – “Appointment in Samarra” by John O’Hara

Cover of "Appointment in Samarra: A Novel...

Cover of Appointment in Samarra: A Novel

“Appointment in Samarra” by John O’Hara, Published in 1934

I picked up this book merely because Will and his mother read it together in “The End of Your Life Book Club.”  It was my first book by O’Hara but I am now excited to read his other work.

Julian English is a part of the social elite in the small town of Gibbsville. He has everything. Julian runs a Cadillac dealership, has the perfect wife, has the connections (he can get bottles of champagne in the middle of Prohibition), and is a member of the town’s elite club.  One drunken night, Julian cannot take the boisterous stories of the town loud-mouth, Harry Reilly, anymore. So he throws a drink in his face.  He wakes up the next morning with the bitter realization of what happened the night before but he is unable to make amends with Harry.

This event leads to a down-spiral of drunken missteps for Julian.  His life becomes a cycle of a drunken evening of debauchery and violence followed by the morning of a terrible hang-over from both the alcohol and the effect of the previous night’s events. It is hard to watch as the reader but it is also that train wreck that you can’t turn away from and so you keep reading.  Julian’s ending is predictable but it is still tragically sad. So what begins as a success story ends as a story about how easily it can all go wrong.

O’Hara is the master of excess. In this way he can be compared to Fitzgerald. However, O’Hara’s writing is not lyrical or poetic.  He does not spend a lot of time painting a picture for the reader.  His writing is honest and straight-forward.  It is simple but it is good.  It is as though he is just telling you like it is and that is refreshing.

The character of Julian is great example that we are often the cause of our own disasters.  There are choices that we make that can cause a chain of events and where they lead is not always a good end.  And sometimes when we do everything to avoid what must be done the result is even worse.   But even more simply, sometimes what is going to happen will happen.

And of course this all leads to the title of the novel that is based on the telling of an old Arab tale by Maugham:

The speaker is Death

 There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. 

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. 

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening  gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? 

That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.


July 17, 2013 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment


There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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