FORGOTTEN BOOKS #11: FROM THE TERRACE By John O’Hara


A couple generations ago, John O’Hara was a best-selling novelist with hits like Appointment in Samarra, Ten North Frederick, and Butterfield 8 to his credit. Today, O’Hara is best known for his short fiction mostly published in The New Yorker. From the Terrace is rarely mentioned in critical studies of O’Hara, but I think this 900 page whale of a novel contains some of John O’Hara’s best writing. Its story applies to today’s preoccupation with everything economic. O’Hara tracks the rise of Alfred Easton, a banking tycoon. O’Hara takes Easton into the Washington, D. C. corridors of power as money and politics blend into a mix of deal-making and duplicity. If you want an insider’s view of finance and power, From the Terrace takes you there.

48 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #11: FROM THE TERRACE By John O’Hara

  1. David Cranmer

    I believe Appointment in Samarra is his only work I’ve read but remember enjoying it quite a bit. I notice you’ve watched season one of the old McQueen series. I watched it about a year ago and consider it, thanks to Steve, a western that holds up remarkably well.

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  2. Bill Crider

    Fifty years ago or so, I went through an O’Hara phase. I read all the books you mentioned, plus others. Loved ’em. I still remember things from FROM THE TERRACE, and not just the sexy parts.

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    1. george Post author

      From the Terrace had a lot of sex for a book written at the end of the 1950s. Yet, it’s pretty much a forgotten book in the O’Hara canon.

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    2. Norman Hughes

      The forward to the book was most memorable for me. I am 83 now and rank Ohara up there with Hemingway and others of the period. Read them all in my 20s.

      The imperceptible wiggle keeps coming back to me when I witness slow moving failures.

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      1. george Post author

        Norman, History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rimes. O’Hara is a wonderful writer who has be unjustly forgotten.

    1. george Post author

      Your father was trying to protect you from those “hot” passages in From the Terrace. Those racy parts were quite daring for 1959.

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  3. Jeff Meyerson

    I remember the movie of FROM THE TERRACE with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward – well, I remember seeing it years ago but none of the details – but never read the book. Like David up there I’ve read only APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA among his novels, though I’ve read hundreds of his stories, short and long.

    I’ll look out for this one as you make it sound interesting, and of course I have so little to read as it is!

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  4. Ellen

    I LOVE From the Terrace. You cannot put it down and it applies to today even though it really gets going in the twenties. It is not just about the power of money, but also of love and how so many of us just do not know what it is. His writing is magnificent. I have read so many of his great books: Appointment in Samarra; Ten North Frederick; Rage to Live. O’Hara is a master and I envy his genius because I love to write and shall never, ever be in his class.

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    1. george Post author

      I’m a fan of From the Terrace, too, Ellen. John O’Hara was a prickly guy, but a great writer. I’ve read most of his novels, but I think as good as they are O’Hara was a better short story writer.

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      1. Trishankupune

        I bought the book as a student having just entered college. This was a second hand Bantam paperback edition of 1960. I picked it up in 1981 in Calcutta. I still have it with me. It must be a collector’s item now.

      2. george Post author

        Trisankupune, I’ve kept most of the books I acquired over the years, especially those by John O’Hara. He’s practically forgotten today, but I still consider him a great writer.

  5. Trishankupune

    George, thats how I have kept my books too. There are two others in my collection that I would like to talk about here. One is the 19th century classic ‘Three men in a boat’ by Jerome K Jerome and the other is another humorous masterpiece ‘The Brigand’ by Edgar Wallace. The latter, a Pan paperback, was picked up by my dad in the mid fifties. I think both are immensly enjoyable repeat reads.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, you have excellent taste in reading! I’m a fan of “Three Men in a Boat,” too. I haven’t read THE BRIGAND by Edgar Wallace, but I have read other Edgar Wallace books. If you haven’t read Jack Vance’s THE DYING EARTH, you’re missing a great book.

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      1. Trishankupune

        I haven’t read ‘The Dying Earth’. I looked it up on the net. Seems to a fantasy set in the future. I’ll try and find out where I can get a copy in India. I have found that the best place to search for older titles is Calcutta. Unfortunately I work in Bombay and that limits my efforts.

      2. george Post author

        Trishankupune, there are several editions of THE DYING EARTH. If you can find EYES OF THE OVERWORLD–part of THE COMPLETE DYING EARTH–you’ll be delighted once you get used to Jack Vance’s style.

  6. Trishankupune

    George, I’m not sure if you are interested in historical novels. If you are, I’d recommend ‘The Far Pavillions’ by M M Kaye. This is set in India of 1857 when we had the first war of independence (or the first Indian mutiny-depnds on the way one looks at it) and is about an orphaned English child. It is a very interesting read. As we say in India, it is a pure filmy story.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, I love historical novels! And I have a copy of THE FAR PAVILIONS on my shelf. Now I’m motivated to read it soon! Do you have an opinion about the RAJ QUARTET by Paul Scott? I have them on my shelf, too.

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      1. Trishankupune

        The Raj Quartet is interesting and you will definitely like it. I would suggest you also view the BBC television series based on the four volumes. The series is quite riveting. But between the two, I would recommend that you read through ‘The Far Pavilions’ first. To me, ‘The Raj Quartet’ has echoes of ‘A Passage To India’. Between the two I would recommend Foster rather than Scott.

      2. george Post author

        Trishankupune, I have the BBC video of THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN. Sadly, I haven’t gotten around to watching that, either. I have read Foster’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA. It’s a lot shorter than the 2000 pages of the RAJ QUARTET! Friends of mine who also enjoy historical fiction have recommended Hilary Mantel’s books. Do you have any opinion on them?

  7. Trishankupune

    George, I couldn’t resist letting you know that The Far Pavilions also encompasses 19th century Afganistan and British misadventures there. It’ll give you a glimpse of the roots of the current mess in that part of the world. The Great Power clash (between Great Britain & the Russian Empire during those days) that made the English go there in the first place and the tragedy that resulted during that foray. Of course the politics can only be glimpsed as an aside to the main story in the book.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, your description of the implications of the events THE FAR PAVILIONS makes me want to drop everything and read it! As soon as I get back from New Mexico, THE FAR PAVILIONS will be the first book I read!

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  8. Trishankupune

    George, I have read “Wolf Hall’. I found it to be an interesting description of England during the 16th century. Quite a read.

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  9. Trishankupune

    I’m sure it will be time well spent. You’ll get a glimpse of colonial English society. I’ve never had occasion to visit USA (Canada is the closest that I have been) but from what I have read, it may have some similarity with contemporary Southern society. You could fill me in once you have read the book.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, Canada is a kinder, gentler version of America. I live on the U.S./Canadian border and visit Toronto on a regular basis (it’s my favorite North American city). Sadly, America has become a very polarized culture. How did you get so interested in reading historical fiction? As you can tell from my blog, I’m interested in many genres. I got interested in historical fiction as a kid when I read a now forgotten writer, Joseph A. Altsheler, who wrote a series of novels for young adults (teenagers). I really liked the U.S. Civil War series which launched a year-long binge of reading historical novels from all time periods.

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      1. Trishankupune

        George, I have had a number of phases in my reading. One was reading historical stories. Some of the others were reading up on history, biographies, non fiction – mostly on financial matters. I guess I got to be interested in things historical largely because I was influenced by my dad. He bought the first few that interested me. One was a Reader’s Digest publication called The Last Two Million Years. The other two were Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War (all the volumes) and the history of the world by H G Wells. What really got me hooked on to historical novels was a volume written in my mother tongue (this happens to be Bengali). This was a compilation of short stories set in different periods of Indian history. Since India as a cultural entity has been around for quite a while the compilation was extremely interesting and diverse. I think that was the trigger.

      2. george Post author

        Trishankupune, a big chunk of my reading deals with economics and finance because I teach those subjects in the Business Administration Department at a local community college. Like you, I read those Churchill history (years later I learned they were “ghost” written). That H. G. Wells history book was everywhere when I was growing up. It was a “free” book when you joined the subscription book clubs (now, all gone). I’m about to leave for the Albuquerque Airport to board a plane to Phoenix, and then fly from Phoenix back to Buffalo. By this time tomorrow, I’ll reading THE FAR PAVILIONS!

  10. Trishankupune

    George, I didn’t know that the Churchill books were ghost written till now. But that doesn’t matter. They were informative and intrresting to read. I am happy to know that you teach eco & finance. I am a finance man myself. I work in the oil exploration company of the Tata group. I’m sure you must have heard about our group? We are India’s largest business house. How long will be your flight?

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, I’m about half-way through THE FAR PAVILIONS and I can’t put it down! You didn’t tell me it’s almost a 1000 pages! I’m hoping to finish it over this weekend and have a review up on this blog on Tuesday. Thank you so much for recommending THE FAR PAVILIONS to me! It’s a great book.

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      1. Trishankupune

        Since you already had the book I thought you noticed. Just returned from a trip abroad a few hours ago. I took Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked & The Dead’ with me as reading material. In the process of completing it.

      2. george Post author

        Trishankupune, the paperback edition of THE FAR PAVILIONS I own has thin paper. It doesn’t look like a 1000 page book, very deceptive. I took a course in NORMAN MAILER back in the 1969s and read THE NAKED & THE DEAD. When it was first published after WWII, THE NAKED & THE DEAD was a sensation. Today, it’s pretty much a forgotten book. Mailer’s best book, in my estimation, is THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG.

  11. Trishankupune

    Another India centric book that I have read over and over is ‘Bhowani Junction’ by John Masters. It is about the Eurasian community in India and their insecurities on the eve of India’s freedom. Also, it vividly describes the political unrest at that time. You could take a look in case you haven’t already read it.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, I don’t have a copy of BHOWANI JUNCTION but I’ll hunt down a copy. I only have a 100 pages of THE FAR PAVILIONS left to read. I don’t want it to end!

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      1. Trishankupune

        Regarding books on finance or financial history, there is a book by John Keay by the name ‘The Honourable Company’. Its a history of the East India Company. Very meticulous research and very well written. I look forward to your review of The Far Pavilions.

      2. george Post author

        Trishankupune, I’ve heard of THE HONOURABLE COMPANY, but I don’t have a copy of it. Back to AMAZON.COM! Thanks for the recommendation. My review of THE FAR PAVILIONS will be up on my blog Tuesday.

  12. Trishankupune

    I was going through this thread a while ago and thought of asking you about what you are reading at present. I just finished two volumes on the Rothschilds by Niall Ferguson. I found them to be terribly boring. After having bought the stuff I realized that in all probability they were sponsored by the bank.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishanupune, I read those two big volumes on the Rothchilds, too. I think they were part of his Ph.D. Ferguson’s later works are much more readable. I liked Ferguson’s book on Kissinger.

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  13. Trishankupune

    I haven’t read that one but have read his books on money and the first world war. I liked them both. I don’t know if you have read any of Somerset Maugham’s short stories. I read them quite a few decades ago but return to them over and over again.

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    1. george Post author

      Trishankupune, I read Somerset Maugham back in the 1960s. Like you, I return to his short stories from time to time. I’ll have to review one of his collections on this blog. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  14. Trishankupune

    That would be great George. Two stories that have left a deep impression on me are Rain and The Fall of Edward Bernard. I think both are outstanding pieces of literature and classic examples of the short story genre.

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