The Floating Opera – John Barth

The Floating Opera was one of the books I bought years ago but could never read. I bought it without even looking at the subject because it was on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die; I knew I would read it one day. The name sounded appealing enough, frankly. Finally, when I read it now, I saw once again that experimental texts are not for me. You see, the problem is notThe Floating Opera, but it is me.


The Floating Opera is John Bart’s most famous book, written when he was just twenty-six and nominated for the National Book Award in 1956. Written in first person, the book consists of what the lawyer Todd Andrews wanted to share with the reader. Todd Andrews is a well-to-do young man who insists on living in a hotel room.

The Floating Opera - John Barth

He pays for his room at the hotel daily because he has a rare heart disease. Todd Andrews lives each day as if it were his last, and he never makes you forget it. I can say that the author manages to bring the reader a little closer to Andrew Todd with such clever details. The more we understand why Todd does what he does, the better we see him as a character.

The thought of death has never left my mind, as the Floating Opera tells the story of a man who rushes towards his death but cannot predict when and how this death will come. Although I was a little distracted when Todd began a consensual affair with his best friend’s wife, I quickly returned to the thought of death.

And unfortunately, as with any experimental text, I found that I was distracted and that the author’s style bothered me. The author goes back in time and narrates many events while immersing the reader in the thoughts of Andrew Todd; This inevitably makes the text messy. Still, don’t listen to me and if you’re interested in the subject, checkThe Floating Opera out. You may find it a gem!

The Floating Opera - John Barth

The Floating Opera

The Floating Opera: It’s warm? It’s entertaining? Well yes, true. It just swings along – sings, with gusto and life; there being this very odd man Todd Andrews living in an oyster-and-crab town in the Chesapeake tidewater country and he’s going to commit (not so: he’s not going to commit) suicide. And there’s this beautiful girl he sleeps with, on loan from her husband; and the old men (real old men, both comic and terrible) and other characters too, and to cap it all Adam’s Original and Unparalleled Floating Opera.

Above all there’s John Barth in every word, sharp-eyed, ironic, richly enjoying every quirk and oddity of this very curious world we inhabit. Try it.The Floating Opera really is a lovely book, and no more like any other you’ve read than a spring onion is like a potato. 

John Barth

John Barth, in full John Simmons Barth, (born May 27, 1930, Cambridge, Maryland, U.S.), American writer best known for novels that combine philosophical depth and complexity with biting satire and boisterous, frequently bawdy humour. Much of Barth’s writing is concerned with the seeming impossibility of choosing the right action in a world that has no absolute values.

Barth grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, the locale of most of his writing, and studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he graduated with an M.A. in 1952. The next year, he began teaching at Pennsylvania State University. He moved in 1965 to the State University of New York at Buffalo as professor of English and writer in residence. He was a professor of English and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University from 1973 to 1995.

Barth’s first two novels, The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958), describe characters burdened by a sense of the futility of all action and the effects of these characters upon the less self-conscious, more active people around them. Barth forsook realism and modern settings in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), a picaresque tale that burlesques the early history of Maryland and parodies the 18th-century English novel. All three novels appeared in revised editions in 1967.

Giles Goat-Boy (1966) is a bizarre tale of the career of a mythical hero and religious prophet, set in a satirical microcosm of vast, computer-run universities. His work Lost in the Funhouse (1968) consists of short, experimental pieces, some designed for performance, interspersed with short stories based on his own childhood. It was followed by Chimera (1972), a volume of three novellas, and Letters (1979), an experimental novel. The novels Sabbatical (1982) and The Tidewater Tales (1987) are more traditional narratives. Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera (1994) combined the genres of novel and memoir in the form of a three-act opera.

The novel Coming Soon!!! (2001) revisits The Floating Opera and is arguably Barth’s most conspicuously self-conscious work. The Book of Ten Nights and a Night (2004) and The Development (2008) are collections of interconnected short stories. Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons (2011) features a character from The Development who injures his head and then, with each change of the seasons, experiences moments from his past as if they are taking place in the present. Collected Stories appeared in 2015.

Barth also published several volumes of essays and other nonfiction writings. These included The Friday Book (1984), Further Fridays (1995), and Final Fridays (2012).

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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