Right book. Right time. 5 stars. No apologies.
Ah, but is it a novel?
Well, let’s see. A Handbook to Literature: Novel Novel is used in its broadest sense to designate any extended fictional narrative almost always in prose. In practice, however, its use is customarily restricted to narratives in which the representation of character occurs either in a static condition or in the process of development as the result of events or actions. Often the term implies that some organizing principle—PLOT, THEME, or idea—should be present in a narrative that is called a novel.
So what do we have?
Plot: √ (Only one? Hard to say.)
Theme: √ (Boy, howdy! In spades. Couple of ‘em.)
Idea> √ (Yeah, a brilliant one; that ‘brilliant’ way, the way the British use the word, that annoys some Yanks, or amuses some Yanks, or confuses some Yanks. Americans rarely use the word; Brits seem to use it as a one-word summary for anything they like, consequently sometimes, to the detriment of another’s probability of sharing said ‘brilliance.’)
Character: √ (several: Reader (who isn't Protagonist), and Protagonist (who’s not the protagonist, except when he is), and a supporting cast, which may number in the hundreds, or perhaps just a few.)
It’s that damned “fictional narrative” part, isn’t it? Isn’t it? √ Most of this book is true. That is, most of the text is comprised of facts—facts about artists (writers and others) most involving the circumstances of their deaths or their anti-Semite-edness, if you will). Fact upon fact. Interspersed with Reader’s thoughts on the book he’s writing and its protagonist, Protagonist. The entire weight of Art History imposes on our seeing Reader at work, imposes on Reader’s work. Names and suicide. Names and death. Names and names and names. This novel lends itself to reading at a break-neck pace, each entry staccato, until one hits you rife with a poeticism that gives you pause.
This was a joy to read. It won’t be so for everyone, I’m afraid; too bad for you. Pace and a sort of humor precludes over-identifying this with Bartleby & Co., this being more entertaining while equally academic. Let’s put it this way, at three-quarters of the way through it, I ordered the other three volumes in Markson’s tetralogy: The Last Novel, This is Not a Novel and Vanishing Point