I feel like an old lady at a health resort, reading about a really nice young man, who is so sharp-witted and gentle that one can almost imagine how handsome he is.
(The above is going to be expanded on and spoilers are going to be added).
On the whole, it seems like a book about a self-righteous piece of shit smart-assing around town. This guy is a teacher and went to college, but he seems to have been alert to human condition and has learned how to be smooth to the point of actually helping mentally and socially challenged people. He knows a gazillion European languages as well as some ancient ones and makes use of his knowledge as he gets his jobs in Newport, reading aloud in tongues to rich people and instructing kids in lawn tennis. The book is broken into chapters, each of which presents a social, psychological, medical or other problem connected to a certain member of society, the protagonist being summoned or feeling compelled to rescue the person in question from their predicament. He constructs a plan involving subtle favours from characters who are thus introduced into the narrative, or have been rescued by Mr. North in other chapters. The plan invariably succeeds, leaving the chapter's pet and its milieu in tears of happiness and undying gratitude. The idea behind this structure is to create a fragmentary image of the post-WWI Newport as seen by a post WWII-person as will be read by an old lady in the seventies. The author makes a special fuss about his separating of the city into nine layers (the way Schliemann is supposed to have discovered Troy) and introduces references to the "layers" into the story probably to make us feel better what kind of behaviour is to be expected from the actors. I could never keep up with these numerics. Another point of special importance for the author is fulfilling his ambitions he presents in the first chapter; he lives up to them in that he is something like a detective in one chapter, something like an archaeologist in the other and so on.
I will not dwell on the actual achievements of the guy. The are impressive and largely incredible. People connected to the person in distress may be compassionate or malevolent, but they are always either severely impeded or very dull, at least compared to the protagonist.
He reminded me of Remarque's heroes - men, who are intellectually superior to everyone around them, having even some nearly transcendental knowledge (say, expertise in Han dynasty ceramics), and a long history of liberating suffering. These heros are fun to learn from. Mr. North, however, is somewhat different. He does not shrink from metaphysics. At a certain point he indulges in healing through channeling of secret energies (once he even makes it easy for an old woman to die - something, she says, the Lord does not want to allow her for some reason), and though he keeps saying he is an atheist and "a fake and a fraud" as a healer, still his séance leaves him exhausted, he an barely walk and falls asleep on the stairs or falls from his bike twice. It is, possibly, his gentle humanism he uses to sort out every problem, that he channels. Maybe it is a metaphor. I couldn't tell. In general, the book is full of contradictions. North says he hates generalizations, but you can find a generalization on almost every page. "Well-conditioned women like to forgive when they are asked to" is a good example of the level of generalizations he allows himself.
He is in love with a 14 year old girl (who can blame him for that?) and without thinking twice he condescends to impregnating a shore widow whose husband is supposed to be infertile. His paramours are actually the best part of the narrative. He is very unscrupulous, and what he cannot fuck he is supposed to have fucked before. But obscenities should be kept out of the book.
Nobody talks as a living human being in the book. A conversation is always an exchange of information.
Sorry, I am sick of this book and my own review. It was ok.