THIS IS HOW IT REALLY SOUNDS by Stuart Archer Cohen, Book Review

Part satire, part revenge tale, part wilderness adventure — with a heavy dash of noir espionage — This Is How It Really Sounds explores the seductive power of the Other Life, and what happens when you finally grasp it.

This Is How It Really Sounds Stuart Archer CohenThis Is How It Really Sounds Synopsis

In the lurid nightclubs of modern Shanghai, infamous expat financier Peter Harrington is suddenly confronted by his past. Investors he has ruined, looming federal investigations, and a remote but alluring woman all converge on one hallucinatory night that ends in the labyrinth of an ancient Chinese garden.

On the other side of the ocean, chasing the last vapors and diminishing sexual returns of fame in Los Angeles, faded rock star Pete Harrington is bankrupt. With no band, no hits, and no money, he suddenly finds one last flash of brilliance that sets him on an absurd and epic quest for revenge.

Finally, there is Harry Harrington. Raised in a world of snow, ice, and avalanches, Alaskan Harry Harrington is the greatest extreme skier on the planet. A legend in a sport that few people have ever heard of, he descends from the slopes of Tahoe and Aspen to the sunny streets of Hollywood, looking for the connection that will change his life.

Welcome to This Is How It Really Sounds, where the worlds of wealth, pop-culture celebrity, and physical prowess collide in a supernatural realm that is shared between three men, each in search of his Other Life. From an assassin moving through the treacherous streets of 1946 Shanghai to the twenty-first-century delirium of Internet fame, Stuart Archer Cohen’s novel centers around a mysterious house that none of its denizens can fully remember, but none can ever forget.

(Picador Books)

Genre: Literature, Action-Adventure, Mystery, Romance

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I love to travel via fiction, and so the many and varied international settings are what first attracted me to Stuart Archer Cohen’s This Is How It Really Sounds. I am also a sucker for a puzzle, and this novel is certainly that.

This Is How It Really Sounds is a novel that defies categorization. It perhaps seeks to be many things, and succeeds at many of them.

Through the different experiences of his ‘three Harringtons’ Cohen perceptively explores vast philosophical territory. One of the key recurring themes is the question of ethics versus legality — from financial market raiders, killing sanctioned by wars predicated on ethnic and ideological cleansing through to saving face, marketing and media management.

I was impressed by Cohen’s treatment of the very serious subject matter — while presenting much food for thought, at no time did the tale become ‘preachy’, nor did he allow it to weigh down his readers. His ability to maintain the entertainment factor through the judicious development of interesting characters and well-timed humorous/ironic observations are to be admired. He avoids stereotypes, preferring to revel in the grey spectrum of the human character.

Having spent time in Shanghai myself some years ago now, I think Cohen beautifully captures the multi-faceted nature of that city and its people. In fact, all the locations felt alive to me – from the commercialism of Hollywood, through to the unforgiving power of mother nature in Alaska. Cohen’s prose is smooth, confident and artful without being noticeably so.

The more uplifting and hopeful theme of this novel is our eternal quest for new experiences and inspiration, and ultimately the value of the simple things in life we often overlook or take for granted.

For me, if This Is How It Really Sounds has a weakness it is that in covering so much ground it reduces the lasting resonance of quality individual elements. In the same vein, while highly compelling and entertaining reading on the whole, it did feel longer than perhaps necessary.

If you are looking for a novel that will engage you on a philosophical plane, while keeping you guessing and entertained, then I recommend This Is How It Really Sounds by Stuart Archer Cohen.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5 — Overall 4.25

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About the Author, Stuart Archer Cohen

Stuart Archer Cohen lives in Juneau, Alaska, with his wife and two sons. He owns Invisible World, an international company importing wool, silk, alpaca, and cashmere from Asia and South America. His novels Invisible World and 17 Stone Angels have been translated into ten languages.

Find out more about Stuart at his website.

Other reviews of This Is How It Really Sounds 

Goodreads, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

* My receiving a copy of this book from St Martins Press for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.