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Novel set in Alaska, California, and Shanghai (the three Harringtons…)

11th September 2015

This Is How It Really Sounds by Stuart Archer Cohen – novel set in Alaska, California, and Shanghai.


This Is How It Really Sounds is a very interesting book – and one to which I have returned in my mind several times over the past few days since I finished reading it. The three central characters all have the surname Harrington. There is Harry Harrington – a former top of the range extreme skier now based in Juneau, Alaska (which, incidentally, is where Stuart Archer Cohen lives…). Then there is Pete Harrington, a Los Angeles based faded middle aged pop star intent on reviving his career. And, finally, there is Peter Harrington, a disgraced New York financier who escaped with millions as his investment fund failed. Not a lot, you may think, in common… But you would be wrong. The book traces the very different, but sometimes overlapping, lives of each of them. Pete lost money in Peter’s investment fund failure – and is determined to gain revenge. He heads off to Shanghai (where Peter is involved in a scheme to sell US utilities to the Chinese) to secure this. Harry works in a hardware store in Juneau, to where a plane diverting winter storm brings both Pete and Peter. Portions of their lives coincide and overlap… And there is more. A somewhat ethereal Alpine house, that seems to move its location with almost every chapter, is key to each of them in finding his own ‘homecoming’.

In TripFiction locational terms the book is a great read. Stuart Arthur Cohen brilliantly captures the essential essence of each of his three locations. He is as completely at ease with the false bonhomie and double speak of Los Angeles, as he is with the excitement and thrust of modern day Shanghai, and the wilderness of Alaska. His description, in particular, of the final extreme ski escapade in Alaska is awe-inspiring as, indeed, is his writing of the ecstasy-fuelled night in Shanghai when Peter ends up in the labyrinth of an ancient Chinese garden with a mysterious girl. He clearly knows each place very well. This knowledge comes, I imagine, from his parallel business career, as owner of Invisible World – a trading company importing into the US wool, silk, alpaca, and cashmere from Asia and South America. He is fluent in Mandarin (and, incidentally for this book, Spanish…)

I suspect, largely from my knowledge of Stuart’s previous works, that This Is How It Really Sounds is also intended as a satirical and political novel – not just as a good read. He clearly has little time for either the financial and banking fraternity, or for the falseness of Los Angeles. And the selling off of US Utilities to the Chinese (as Peter was planning in Shanghai) is something against which he has campaigned… He is much more comfortable and at home in the wilds of Alaska. Extreme skiing and the outdoor life is his passion.

This Is How It Really Sounds is a book that evokes many emotions – and it is a very worthwhile read. I enjoyed it.

Tony for the TripFiction team 

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