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Here is a modernist novel (or anti-novel) with a vengeance. David Markson, whose previous books include Springer's Progress and Wittgenstein's Mistress, has erected a skeletal framework in which a character called the Reader contemplates the creation of a Protagonist. This process never moves much beyond the contemplation stage, which makes for a thin-to-nonexistent narrative. In its place, we get a wealth of quotations, epigrams, and literary tidbits--the pleasurable gleanings of a lifelong intellectual pack rat.
Now in his 60s, Markson continues to blossom as an experimental novelist. His early work, Springer's Progress, published in the mid 1970s, carried the seeds of the collage technique that the much-praised Wittgenstein's Mistress put to such great effect and which in his latest has resulted in a book often dreamed about by the avant-garde but never seen. "A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak, minus much of the novel?" asks Markson's narrator, called The Reader. "Or perhaps not a novel? Is he in some way thinking of an autobiography?" "Or does the absence of a narrative progression... possibly render it even a poem of sorts? Not to add avec exactly 333 interspersed unattributed quotations awaiting annotation?" Reader's Block asks all these questions, and the lucky reader will not care a whit, for what Markson accomplishes, despite his doubts, is an utterly fascinating document that in itself is a small education in the history of Western literature, seen through the eyes of a gravely impassioned litterateur. The quotations from his reading that have become Markson's signature are so remarkably sustaining that the book, despite its lack of narrative, is hard to put down: the fate of Auden's royalties (Chester Kallman's dentist father's second wife); the suicide of Adrienne Rich's husband; Conrad's verdict on Moby-Dick ("not a single sincere line"); the Sappho fragment, "Raise high the roof beam, carpenters." The collection of these fragments, which also include a list of nearly a hundred writers deemed anti-Semitic and another list of author suicides, invests this work with a terribly mordant tone and gives Markson's meditation on the novel form a fresh urgency. This is a playful book with dead serious concerns. As The Reader wanders through the life of his extraordinary reading, the endeavor of novel-writing is subtly repositioned as perhaps something that lies about life and needn't.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Markson discards the narrative form and focuses on what's interesting, the tidbits and anecdotes. The message of the novel is what he focuses on, the deaths, the misfortunes, the... Read morePublished on Dec 16 2002 by Sean Courtney
A work of experimental fiction, Reader's Block does not present itself in a traditional, linear way, but instead as a series of short, sharp sentences. Read morePublished on April 12 2000 by Brent Woods