Carthew Yorston is a Texan businessman, who takes his two young sons to breakfast in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre, on September 11th 2001. What unfolds is all too familiar to the reader, and we see tragedy and horror unfold through Cathew’s eyes (and occasionally the eyes of one of his sons).
In a dual narrative, Frederic Beigbeder examines the effect that September 11th 2001 has had on him, the world and in particular (understandably) New York.
Each chapter in this book represents one minute. In Cathew’s narrative, which runs in chronological order, he describes that particular minute, stuck at the top of what was the most dangerous place in the world to be on that day.
Beigbeder’s narrative describes a particular minute at varying times of his life since that date, and takes him from Paris to New York, as he considers what moved him to write the book, and describe different aspects of his life.
It’s hard to say that this book was enjoyable, and perhaps, given the subject matter, it was never going to be an enjoyable story. As the reader knows all too well what happened on that day, it can be read with a sense of apprehension, knowing that Carthew’s hopes of rescue and assurances to his sons are in vain. The ending is inevitable (it is revealed very early on that Carthew, Jerry and David do not survive, and as nobody who was this high up in North Tower did survive the attacks, it could not be written any other way.
Carthew also talks about his life, his marriage and divorce, and his job and girlfriend. This part of the book made for uncomfortable yet compelling reading. However, I did feel somewhat voyeuristic while reading it – I’m not sure that such a tragic event should be served up as entertainment.
When Beigbeder writes as himself, the book is less interesting. It started well – Beigbeder talks about the idea behind the tower, and gives plenty of facts about how it was built, dimensions etc. But his narrative soon seems to turn into an exercise in navel gazing…at times he seems simply to be indulging himself in thoughts about his own life. I ended up feeling that if he wanted to write an autobiography, he should have just written one, instead of trying to smuggle it into a book about the worst terrorist attack in history.
Overall though, I am not sorry I read this book.