Entre Parentheses — Between Parentheses

Published yesterday was Roberto Bolano’s collected nonfiction (about 99% of it), Between Parentheses. I’ll have a review of it eventually in The National, but for now I’ll point you to a list of recommended reading I extracted from Bolano’s voluminous recommendations.

Among those is the remarkable short story “Enoch Soames” by Max Beerbohm, which you can either read for free (it’s in the public domain), or as part of Beerbohm’s Seven Lives, republished by NYRB Classics (Soames is one of the seven lives.)

On Bolano’s recommendation I read the story last week, and found it quite compelling. It’s a very pleasant mindfuck about literary status, immortality, and the relationship of fiction to reality. At the center of it is Soames, an obscure British writer at the close of the 19th century who is either a genius or a crank. No one can tell. An impressionable young Beerbohm (the narrator) attempts to read him and befriend him, but can’t make heads of tales of Soames, either as man or author. An impromptu deal with the devil allows Soames to travel 100 years into the future to discover whether or not he has passed the time, wherein he learns that history records him as a figment of Beerbohm’s imagination. (Soames is chagrined. So is Beerbohm; “I’m an essayist!” he declares in disgust.)

But don’t let this tiny summary stand in for you reading it yourself; the story is full of all kinds of nice effects and details that I’ve left out of here, and I haven’t even discussed the end-ending that comes after Soames and Beerbohm discuss the London of the future.

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