This Is Not a Novel Paperback – Mar 1 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Over the course of his career, Markson (Wittgenstein's Mistress; Reader's Block; etc.) has garnered high praise for his erudite, complex texts that challenge notions of genre. He continues to push against the boundaries of fiction with his latest, which echoes the titles of both Magritte's well-known painting of a pipe and a story by Diderot. Lacking plot or characters, this darkly humorous assemblage resembles a commonplace book or a notebook, such as Coleridge's or Emerson's, with entries noting odd facts, quotes and ideas. These entries averaging around 10 per page have the air of memoranda pointing to some future, more fully realized passage that might never materialize. Occasional appearances by someone called Writer ("Not being a character but the author, here") add a note of self-consciousness, reminding us of the performative nature of any work of art. Themes soon emerge: illness, art, fame and hygiene are obvious preoccupations. The entries lead us down the page, maintaining a brisk momentum. There are deaths (Pound of a blocked intestine, Manet of tertiary syphilis), quotations and seemingly out-of-context questions although it is apparent that context is rather beside the point. These references imply some ad hoc, interior encyclopedia: "The legend that as a young man Leonardo was so strong he could straighten a horseshoe with his bare hands." It is best to take Markson at his word and read this not as a novel but as some jester cousin to Pound's Cantos notations that gradually cohere in an underlying progress, a drift toward the momentary reconciliation of art, intellect and mortality. (Apr. 1)Forecast: Markson is at once unpredictable and reliable, to which the inclusion of blurbs from Ann Beattie and David Foster Wallace attests. This book won't appeal for most general fiction readers, but admirers of the author will seek out and savor his latest.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Of course novelist Markson's latest book is a novel. What else could this rueful combination of fact and fictionalized self-portraiture, this book-length list of odd bits of trivia about artists' lives, most of which perversely focuses on their deaths, be called? The "Writer," as the compulsive, hypochondriac narrator refers to himself, has amassed this quirky collection of seemingly random yet wittily connected data in lieu of writing, an activity he's finding difficult, if not repugnant, what with all his headaches and general malaise. Terse and stoic, he's all over the map, tossing off bulletins about Sappho, Fitzgerald, Blake, Picasso, Flaubert, Emerson, and Mahler; relishing snide remarks artists make about each other; and periodically alluding to his desire to write a novel with no characters, plot, or setting, a mission he slyly accomplishes. Mischievous, funny, and smart, Markson will greatly amuse readers who share his fascination with art and the clash between the sublime and the ridiculous that fractures every artist's life. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Out of all of the books, anecdotes, and sentences a character of sorts appears, who is not terribly interesting, nor completely capable of engaging the world without thinking through reading. The book is filled with curiosities that will jog to recollection details from a life spent reading. For some it is important to criticize what this book is not. Certainly, the style and approach to the writing of this book does not differ radically from the author's others. Perhaps this one is more refined. Perhaps it is repetitive and parodic. I prefer to recommend its observant and playful stories and structures that emerge from the sentences.
Some artists are driven to find a different way. The older I get and the more conventional stories I have under my belt, the more I crave the work of these artists, for whom the pursuit of strangeness is a powerful mandate. I don't mean the merely weird or ugly--I'm talking about doing something new, or else finding a way to uncover the oddness in ordinary life. Overfamiliarity with the world is suffocating.
THIS IS NOT A NOVEL is a sly book. It appears to be little more than a miscellany of notes from Markson's reading, mixed with a few stray thoughts on the nature of this book he's writing. By the third page we know that he wants it to be characterless and plotless, "yet seducing the reader into turning pages nonetheless." I, for one, turned the pages happily, borne along by the flow of anecdote. But gradually in became apparent that what I was reading, finally, was an odd meditation on the phrase "timor mortis conturbat me"--refrain line from a poem by William Dunbar, "Lament for the Makers" [15th C.] The fear of death disturbs me. This is a novel about a writer trying to shake of the chill of approaching death. A strangely moving work.
This Is Not A Novel is, in fact, not a novel but what it is is not entirely clear. Throughout his work, Markson runs through details about how famous literary figures have died, what philosophers believed and what artists said. There are no characters except, perhaps, for the elusive "Writer". There is no plot. Nothing thrilling happens. And yet its amazing to me how drawn in to the book I was.
Bottom line: I don't know what it was but I'm glad I read it. Experimental fiction can either be disastrous (see The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino) or monumentally successful (see 253: The Print Remix by Geoff Ryman) - there's usually no middle ground. This Is Not A Novel definitely fits into the latter category.
Most recent customer reviews
It was odd to read this, because of timing. I had just read Mark Salzman's _Lost In Place_, a memoir of his quixotic youth which addresses the human need to make a mark in the... Read morePublished on Jan. 26 2004 by Delia M. Turner
This is not a novel? Damn straight it isn't. I'm usually the first person to applaud experimental fiction, but Markson's book reads like the literary journal of a manic... Read morePublished on Oct. 14 2001 by Jason Baer
This is a maddening book. Roughly half consists of facts (I assume - no citations) concerning writers and other creative artists, some of them wonderful. Read morePublished on April 23 2001 by March Coleman
Works of experimental fiction, which play with form and keep drawing attention to their artificiality, too often fail to move; they appeal only to the intellect. Read morePublished on April 3 2001 by Science Guy