Mr. Gwyn Hardcover – Jul 8 2014
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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice Pick. "A prolific European master often compared to Italo Calvino, Baricco is still best known in the States for the cult classic Silk--but that should change with this enigmatic novel, which offers genial weirdness unparalleled this side of Haruki Murakami." --Publishers Weekly "Alessandro Baricco's Mr. Gwyn is the kind of wonderful discovery for which book critics wade through stacks of volumes. It is a standout... [and] one of the most unusual stories about love you'll ever read." --San Francisco Chronicle "[Alessandro] Baricco has written a tender meditation on the almost imperceptible ways in which people, and books, can change us, resonate, call out over the years, sending us back in time and destabilizing us, like so many Trojan horses smuggled into our lives under cover of darkness. " --The New York Times Book Review "The work is a blended balance of satisfying resolve and loose ends that wander off the borders of the page, and recommended to anyone interested in fresh similes, comforting strangeness, and the confusion that clouds the human heart." --Booklist "A tour de force of literary fiction" --Kirkus (Starred review) "[A] high-minded literary mystery novel." --Vanity Fair "A very enjoyable read." --The Complete Review "Intriguing... a work of subtle touches."--Three Percent "A cerebral mystery"--Minneapolis StarTribune "This is a strange, satisfying summer read. Fast and light, though not without a little intellectual rigor." --Brooklyn Paper "Alessandro Baricco limns these narrative connections with a great deal of mastery and a very delicate sense of touch." --World Literature Today "A sly, atmospheric work." --The Millions "Baricco's language thrives (here through Ann Goldstein's graceful translation) in this light application of archetypal British mystery to an otherwise Kafkaesque narrative." --Full Stop "The reader of Mr. Gwyn... becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer." --The Quarterly Conversation
About the Author
Alessandro Baricco is an Italian writer, director, and performer. He has won the Prix Medicis Étranger in France and the Selezione Campiello, Viareggio, and Palazzo al Bosco prizes in Italy.
Ann Goldstein is an editor at The New Yorker. She has translated three novels by Elena Ferrante- The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter-Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, The Chill by Romano Bilenchi, The Father and the Stranger by Giancarlo de Cataldo, and The Worst Intentions by Alessandro Piperno. Her translation of Linda Ferri's Cecilia is forthcoming in May 2010. She received a PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. She is currently editing the complete works of Primo Levi, for which she received a Guggenheim Translation fellowship. She lives in New York.
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It begins with an introduction to Jasper Gwyn, a writer who at 43 has written three very different novels and become so successful that the pressures of his fame weigh on him and limit his ability to create art. He publishes, in the Guardian, perhaps England's most widely read newspaper, an article in which he lists 52 things he will never do again, and the last on the list is to write books. But, as his best friend and literary agent warns him, a writer is a person who must write and can't give it up. So Mr. Gwyn sets out to create a new art form, the writing of a portrait - not a description, but a different kind of portrait created like a painting of the subject, posed in the nude and under nearly identical conditions.
But please make no mistake; this is a work about art, the nature and meaning of art and the interaction between the artist and the subject, not the narration of a linear tale. Those who attempt to read it as such find it disjointed and confusing. It is also a puzzle, because it is the reader's job to connect the dots between Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn. When you do, it is like those books popular about 20 years ago where you look at an apparent tangle and suddenly it becomes a breath-taking 3-dimensional image. There is a cohesive whole here, an explosive experience of the power of art in the largest sense - the human ability to represent the natural world in a way that endows it with beauty and meaning. And it is a love story like no other.
I love it when writers write about writing and actually create one of their characters' creations, as Baricco does here in the second half. In that regard, it reminds me a little of Nabokov's "Pale Fire." The book's innovative structure and general fearlessness remind me of Cortázar, and his poking holes in reality evokes Borges. Baricco's books share space on my shelf with these great writers because they thoroughly belong there.
If you loved his other novels, you'll love this one. If you've never read him before, this is an excellent place to start.
What's it about? The creative process and the world creative artists must inhabit in order to produce something original. Mr. Gwyn wants to be authentic. He's not van Gogh or Matisse. He's precise, though. And he has become a writer, an appreciated writer. So how does he move to that next level? What path is left to him? This is the story of his effort to produce something of value. A surprising series of somethings. With wonderful, original characters. Nothing seems false or forced to me.
I suppose it's possible to remain unsympathetic to the quirky motivations of the protagonist and his comrades. Maybe. More people seem to enjoy Michael Bay movies than those of Kieslowski. There's no accounting for taste. Still, I like to think that anyone who loves a great story, delicately and beautifully told, will treasure this book.
Beyond that, The Hardback edition from McSweeney's is, as usual, da bomb.