Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mistler's Exit

Mistler's Exit is a 1998 novel by Louis Begley. I didn't like this main character at all, but I enjoyed the book. It's an interesting look at a man coming to terms with his life.

from the back of the book:
A self-made New Yorker well into his middle age, Thomas Mistler has long been a lion of Madison Avenue's powerful advertising world. Now, poised to sell his company for a luxurious sum, Mistler receives alarming news: He has only months to live. But his reaction is not what one would expect. Rather than hysteria, Mistler experiences a sense of clarity and a feeling of being set free. From what, he is unsure. In a decision that breaks the mold of his superbly organized routine, Mistler conceals his illness from his family and seeks a moment of grace to be savored alone in the decadent splendor of Venice. There, he meets a young, lustful photographer and, later, a love from his youth. But his attempts to recapture passion only magnify the reconciliations he has yet to make -with the father to whom he sacrificed his own dreams, the son with whom he has never truly been at ease, and the wife to whom he has given everything but respect.

A startling blend of grace and satire, Mistler's Exit is charged with unexpected moments of beauty and eroticism, pathos and humor. Like the city of Venice itself, it is a creation of timeless appeal.
favorite quotes:
Running a very large business had taught Mistler that decisions on most matters can and should be postponed.
Can there be greater pain than remembrance of past sorrow in present misery?
If a man such as he, integer vitae scelerisque purus, accustomed to pleasure, has an ugly death, need it be said that he has not had a happy life? For the moment, Mistler inclined to think the opposite. The stuff about not knowing until nightfall whether the day had been beautiful was clever twaddle. You took the day hour by hour and a life day by day. Why should the final passage be all that counts?
The main character explores and comes back to a painting by Titian of The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence:

The New York Times closes by saying, "... the theme of self-deception at the end of life -- when everyman as playwright/audience is pushed to his limit -- may be the supreme test for a novelist with this of all obsessions. Mistler's Exit meets the test, bringing an estimable set of novels to a new pinnacle of darkness." Kirkus Reviews describes it as "The chronicling of a patrician life from the inside". Publishers Weekly ends its review with this: "Begley displays the bitter moral intelligence, the fear of emptiness, that has distinguished his late, extraordinary career from the start. Once again he has created a sinister, highly ambiguous protagonist in a haunting, ambivalent work of art." EW says, "There is a compellingly austere, cut-glass clarity to the book".


  1. Not sure this is for me. What drew you to the book? Author you like? Found it in a sale? I'm always curious about how books are chosen.


    1. I came across it in the used books department of my local bookseller, and the teaser on the back appealed to me. The idea of how people come to terms with their decisions and relationships as they age and experience serious health crises interests me. I would definitely read something else by this author.