Genre: Experimental writing
Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing.”
What caught my attention first was the title of this book declaring explicitly that it wasn’t a novel. I was curious about what it was then, so I opened it up and had a few flicks through the pages, to check the layout (because any book claiming not to be a novel must have a different layout to a conventional novel!). I was right, it didn’t look like a standard novel. So I read the opening lines – or rather statements – and the impression I got was that it would read like a series of statements explaining the writing process of a novel from the perspective of the Writer, in a meta-fiction kind of way.
My guess was wrong. It was, however, a series of statements about various figures throughout history, predominantly literary figures and artists. Examples include: Bertolt Brecht, Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth I, Haydn, Mozart, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Picasso, Galileo, Freud, Nietzsche, and Kant (among many others!)
Most of these statements tell what that person died of, or what they thought of another figure who was alive at the same time as them. Occasionally, the Writer will interject with a statement about what his novel is, or could be. Here’s an example of how the novel reads from beginning to end:
“Theophtastus pronounced that flute music could cure sciatica.
Not to mention epilepsy.
Alexander Pope died of dropsy.
John Milton died of gout.
Theophrastus said flute music would have cured that, also.
No one ever painted a woman’s backside better than Boucher, said Renoir.
A novel entirely without symbols.”
It was this kind of layout that tempted me to read it, more than the content. I thought it would a fun, different read that would take me no time at all to get through. However, it took me longer than I thought. I tended to slip in and out of concentration because of the repetitiveness of the style. Some of the facts are funny, and they were all things I didn’t know. If you pay close attention to the way Markson has written this, you will notice that there is plot development via the statements he chooses to present and in what order he presents them. There is a beginning, middle and end. If you are extremely perceptive to Markson’s narrative strategy, then the ending will have all the impact that an ending should.
This was worth reading just because it id different from what I’m used to when reading a book. If you like experimental writing and meta-fiction then this book is for you. If you want to know a bunch of facts about historical figures, literary figures, artists, philosophers, then this is for you. Especially if you want to know how they died.
Link to the book on Goodreads: