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August 07, 2008

Comments

Mark Thwaite

Hey,

A "bleak, mordantly funny marvel" it may be, but flawed too -- Stephen Mitchelmore's superb review on ReadySteadyBook (http://www.readysteadybook.com/BookReview.aspx?isbn=0811217078) describes it as "a brave and important novel rather than a great one."

Cesar Bruto (que Bruto!)

You thought that review was superb? Really?

Is it superb to write that Senselessness is a "remarkable alternative to magical realist confections" when such magical realist confections were published more than twenty years ago? (Is it superb to deploy the cliche of mentioning magical realism anytime a Latin American novel is reviewed? How about reading more contemporary Latin American literature instead?)

Is it superb to write that he really would have liked more testimonies? (Is it superb to say I liked Anna but would have really liked to see more of Kitty?)

Is it superb to write that Senselessness is not a great novel because (here goes the logic) the reviewer assumes Senselessness equals Gargoyles so the Central American narrator is therefore "himself not all there" so "what we read is the inheritance of the manuscript" but since "he has been in control all along" then plop! doesn't work?

Is it superb for so many sentences in a review to be illogical:

How does "For this reason, Castellanos Moya's adoption of Bernhard's style can be seen as more than homage" follow from the plot summary of Gargoyles that came before it?

How does "So, instead of the brief sentences quoted in Senselessness, I imagine a much longer novel with as much original testimony as that of the editor's story" follow from the long paragraph that came before it about Salvadorian history? (Really? Is he saying that, because El Salvador has SO much interesting war history, he would have liked to see more of it?)

Sere bruto pero no soy pendejo.

kubla khan

I agree with Cesar above. The Mitchelmore review is about Gargoyles, not about senselessness. comparing the two is odious. gargoyles is about a specific kind of experience, a different kind of horror, mostly personal, associated with mental breakdown while senselessness deals with a different kind of experience, a kind the reviewer cannot comprehend.

there is an attempt to question the testimony of the narrator by questioning the narrative style, which in essence means leaving a question mark about the whole novel.

Perhaps mitchelmore has not read enough latin american literature, a literature that has moved beyond the created category of magic realism and is more rooted in realism than ever.....testimony Bolano.

no two writers need to be compared.....and surely only a certain kind of inability to understand a specific literature, a specific pain leads to that.

the review is odious, the book is great.

kubla khan

I agree with Cesar above. The Mitchelmore review is about Gargoyles, not about senselessness. comparing the two is odious. gargoyles is about a specific kind of experience, a different kind of horror, mostly personal, associated with mental breakdown while senselessness deals with a different kind of experience, a kind the reviewer cannot comprehend.

there is an attempt to question the testimony of the narrator by questioning the narrative style, which in essence means leaving a question mark about the whole novel.

Perhaps mitchelmore has not read enough latin american literature, a literature that has moved beyond the created category of magic realism and is more rooted in realism than ever.....testimony Bolano.

no two writers need to be compared.....and surely only a certain kind of inability to understand a specific literature, a specific pain leads to that.

the review is odious, the book is great.

steve mitchelmore

Cesar Bruto, there are lots of points you've misunderstood or misrepresented. Here goes:

First: You should be aware that the review was written from the perspective of the UK and the profile of South American fiction here is dominated by Garcia Marquez (specifically 100 Years and Love in the Time of Cholera), Isabel Allende and Borges. I know this as I live here. It makes no difference how long ago they were published. This is the awareness we have. Shouldn't you be pleased fiction not fitting the mold is getting enthusiastic reviews?

Second: I said more testimonies would have made the novel more convincing just as Bernhard makes his narrator's experience more convincing with a 100 page monologue. Nowhere did I say I would have "liked" more of them. I was reading the book from its own explicit perspective. You should try it sometime, starting with your reading of reviews.

Also, I did not say it "equals" Gargoyles. I saw an allusion to Gargoyles in the first paragraph so I used Bernhard's novel to explain how I think Senselessness could have been more Bernhardian and, therefore, potentially a great novel. Read the review again and tell me where I say the novel "doesn't work".

Third: You questionL "Is it superb for so many sentences in a review to be illogical" (sic). Is the following sentence you quote illogical or just too difficult for you? Let me spell it out: The narrative voice of Senselessness is like it is - i.e. Bernhardian - for the same reason the narrative voice of the second half of Gargoyles is like it is. Therefore, it is more than homage. It has learned from the master but, as I make plain, not quite enough.

Finally, my digression into Salvadorean history was for British readers unfamiliar with the subject matter of the book - which includes nearly 100% of the population. As I pointed out in the review at the beginning of the paragraph of history, even a sympathetic reviewer in the US seemed innocent of the terrible facts that affects the narrator. So, in terms of a witness to hisoty AND for the sake of art, more testimonies might have made this novel more *important*. Let me repeat that final line of the review as it stands for this comment too: "This is not meant as criticism so much as an attempt to define why Senselessness is a brave and important novel rather than a great one."

I don't read Spanish but your sign-off is inaccurate. What's Spanish for fuckwit?

Cesar Bruto

Jollyhood!

El Bruto loves brawls!

Especially with condescending, pugnacious replies. Because these replies always confer their authors with such ersatz authority, no? So in a cute, imaginary way, I am actually brawling with a lit champ.

Parry on, then, Michelmoot:

First: You are acting as a reviewer, not as nincompoop who only knows of Isabel. You should be providing the Latin American context if you think your people do not know any better, but writing something as presumptuous as "the awareness WE have" qualifies you as a fuckwit, no? So now, if I combine 'according to you' with 'according to me,' we're fuckwit buddies according to us. Chevere loco!

Second: You're right, toffie, you did not write "liked" but (and this is the point I was trying to make) that's what your comments, in a roundabout way, although 'roundabout' implies shape and yours is more of a slapdash bounce around, are actually saying. Read your review again a few years from now when you're older and you'll understand what I meant in the year 2008.

Oh to be literal minded! Yes, nowhere in your muddle of therefores you say it doesn't work. But again: you're trying to make an argument that the novel isn't great because it doesn't work like Gargoyles (see my comments above about you being older, etc).

Third: Ah, the muddle of therefores continues. You into sagas? Me too! (see my 'according' admixture comment above).

Finally: Your "So, in terms of a witness to hisoty AND for the sake of art, more testimonies might have made this novel more *important*" is as ridiculous as your "like a reverse-Dante careening toward Hell on the helter-skelter of Mount Purgatory." Although the latter is so amateurish is construction that, well, see fuckwit brotherhood comment above.

And you spend a large chunk of your dis-consequently saga criticizing the novel and then you think you're absolved by saying "this is not meant as criticism"?

Pero mira si no eres imbecil!

Besos,

C. Bruto.

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."