Tlooth Paperback – Oct 1 1998
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"A brilliant book, in a very special way... While the method of telling it is quite sober, and the language plain, what actually happens is bizarre and wonderful. The descriptions that are blandly handed to you show an imagination and an ingenuity that are often just as astonishing. The details are sometimes savage and scabrous.... But the book has nothing to do with modish sick humor.... It is, for all its incidental excesses, fantasy, pure and simple.... If you can take it, this is a journey worth taking." -- Harper's
"[ Tlooth and Conversions are] comic extravaganzas that play mockingly with every device of fiction." -- Washington Post Book World
"An imaginative free-form exercise in the best advanced style, one carefully planned with conventions of plot meticulously disregarded... with an emphasis on bizarre subject matter paramount.... Here in brief is a literary "happening" not without some interest for its motivations in technique in a world evidently prepared to abandon the old and tried for the new and quite experimental, at least in prose fiction." -- Virginia Quarterly Review
About the Author
Born in New York in 1930, Harry Mathews settled in Europe in 1952 and has since then lived in Spain, Germany, Italy, and (chiefly) France. When Mathews published his first poems in 1956, he was associated with the so-called New York School of poets, with three of whom (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler) he founded the review Locus Solus in 1961. Through his friendship with Georges Perec, he became a member of the Oulipo in 1972. The author of six novels and several collections of poetry, recent publications are THE NEW TOURISM (Sand Paper Press, 2010), Sainte Catherine, a novella written in French (Editions P.O.L, 2000), The Human Country: the Collected Short Stories (Dalkey Archive Press, 2002), The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays (Dalkey Archive Press, 2003), OULIPO COMPENDIUM (co-edited with Alastair Brotchie; Atlas Press and Make Now Press, 2005), and My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 (Dalkey Archive Press, 2005).
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The story begins in Jacksongrad, a detention camp of sorts in Russia. (It is described as being in "South Siberia," but various clues place it in what is now Uzbekistan or one of the neighboring republics.) The narrator, a prisoner in the camp who works as a dental assistant, is a former concert violinist whose left hand has been mutilated by a doctor, a fellow prisoner, named Evelyn Roak. The (thus far unnamed) narrator has vowed revenge against Dr. Roak, leading to a bizarre series of acts and events, eventually leaving the camp and traveling to Afghanistan, India, Italy, Morocco, and France.
The novel is built around wild inventions and clever deceptions. The author creates religions, diseases, musical forms, medical disciplines, folk practices, and industries--each absurd, yet described with enough sincerity to test the reader's credibility. There are also codes, puzzles, and scrambled text designed, I would supposed, to examine how we process incomplete or garbled information. At one point, for example, the narrator is commissioned to draft a scenario for a pornographic movie. The draft is being recited orally at the same time that other events are happening, with the result that events are commingled. Then, at the steamiest point in the scenario, the narrator becomes ill and begins to transpose letters. If you want to know who is doing what to whom, you bust me ready do tecipher lords thike wese.
Tlooth is a book that will appeal to those who enjoy experimental fiction, who don't mind having a mirror held up to their preconceptions, and who aren't overly disturbed by a few grisly depictions of medical procedures and sexual violence.