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This Is Not a Novel [Paperback]

David Markson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 2001 1582431337 978-1582431338
This Is Not a Novel is a highly inventive work which drifts "genre-less," somewhere in between fiction, nonfiction, and psychological memoir. In the opening pages of the "novel," a narrator, called only "Writer," announces that he is tired of inventing characters, contemplating plot, setting, theme, and conflict. Yet the writer is determined to seduce the reader into turning pages-and to "get somewhere," nonetheless.

What follows are pages crammed with short lines of astonishingly fascinating literary and artistic anecdotes, quotations, and cultural curiosities. This Is Not a Novel is leavened with Markson's deliciously ironic wit and laughter, so that when the writer does indeed finally get us "somewhere" it's the journey will have mattered as much as the arrival.

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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.

From Booklist

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars leer life April 21 2003
One assumes that fans of David Markson's work will not be too disappointed by this latest book. I was not, though I admit I prefer his other writings to this. The book is structured as a sequence of sentences, often anecdotes describing the creative habits and deaths of an artistic pantheon. Sure, some will consider the book pretentious, but part of its glory is the effort of the writer, the central character, if any, who seems to be more of a reader, Markson, perhaps, and who puzzles and tries to be reconciled with his own impending mortality. Aside from the bounty of names, here and there an uncommon star appears, this book takes less cleverness to resolve into a thoughtful experience than other Markson books. Most dazzling, to be sure, is the variant structure of declarative sentences, often taken for granted. Some structures are continued repetitively, others, strikingly, challenge the rhythm the reader establishes. The sequences have the potential to mesmerize the patient and weary the rushed.
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A different way. Oct. 26 2003
Markson quotes a conversation between an unnamed critic and Picasso. Critic: You can actually draw so beautifully. Why do you spend all your time making these queer things? Picasso: That's why.
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What's the problem? Oct. 5 2002
By A Customer
This reads like a companion volume to "Reader's Block." Like the former book, this is a compilation of often fascinating, curious and humanizing facts and quotations of great artists, writers, philosophers, indirectly limning the "author's" concerns with morality, health, and fame. Irrelevant to its enjoyment are considerations of (a)the amount of work entailed in creating it; (b)its nature as novel or anti-novel; (c)the degree to which all its entries are news ("Wagner was an anti-Semite" was not intended to enlighten the reader, but in that case to reflect the "author's" consciousness); (d) the degree to which the form of the book is ground-breaking. Perhaps because I am in a similar situation to the author's in my own career, I identified and found a wry humor in the proceedings, and a genuine modesty in the economy of its style. (Note: There is a bit of "dumbing down" here compared to "Reader's Block", as if Markson [at the bidding of his editor?] didn't quite trust his audience to figure out what he was about and had to spell it out in a few passages, but that can be easily enough overlooked.) For what it is--which is no less than what it attempts to be--it's a very interesting, instructive read, and well-nigh perfect: hence 5 stars.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This Is Not A Review May 22 2001
How do you review something when you're not quite sure what it is to begin with?
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.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not even sad, just pathetic April 24 2002
In an interview published in an issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction half-devoted to his work, David Markson explained the decade-long gaps in his oeuvre as "sheer barnyard laziness". That phrase came to haunt me as I whizzed through this shallow montage of high-culture trivia. (Typical paragraph, quoted in its entirety: "Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite." Got that?) I can't conceive of a lazier way to manufacture a book than Markson has come up with here. The impression is of a tired old scribbler (the author has been collecting Social Security for a while now) who still needs to think of himself as an artist, even though what little of the Divine Flame he once tended (his major effort was a pretentious melange of recycled Malcolm Lowry called "Going Down") sputtered out decades ago.
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