Favorite Reads of the Year (3)

13. The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya: In my opinion, Castellanos Moya is one of the most interesting Latin American authors to emerge in English translation in the past few years. Legend has it that Castellanos Moya was one of three authors Francisco Goldman urged New Directions to translate (Bolano being one of the others, though I've forgotten the third). Senselessness was a great choice for a first translation in that I immediately wanted to read anything else written by its author. The She-Devil in the Mirror was #2, and in fact they make a great pairing. The two books have very similar concerns, but come at them in different, but mutually intelligible ways. We've covered Castellanos Moya quite thoroughly in The Quarterly Conversation, so for more I send you to our review of Senselessness, our interview with the author, and my essay on his first two translated novels.

14. Ghosts by Cesar Aira: The more I read Aira, the more certain I become that he is one of the great working Latin American authors. Ghosts reminded me of the playfulness and casual philosophicality of Calvino. For more, see my review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

15. The Loser by Thomas Bernhard: At points in this novel I would entirely lose track of what was being communicated and just focus in on the feel of the voice and the bumping cadence of the prose. You really need nothing more than that to love this book, but then there's the multi-layered narration that's taking the first-person voice in perhaps not-previously-seen directions. It's such an intricately crafted, devious novel that it makes me wonder if Barthes ever critiqued Bernhard. I would love to read that.

16. The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano: You can read my review here. In particular, this book distinguished itself for the distinct pleasure it offers the re-reader, which I discussed here.

17. Vertigo by WG Sebald: So many writers want to construct narratives as they've been constructed for ages. Either that, or they confine themselves to making small tweaks on well-defined forms. I loved this book for the way it quietly set about establishing a narrative logic all its own, as if this was merely something that books did as a matter of course. Another way to say this is that Vertigo felt like one of the most unified, self-consistent works I read all year, despite ranging over: the Napoleonic Wars, Kafka, detective fiction, the Italian countryside, Sebald's personal history, the Holocaust. And it was as taut as any page-turner I read this year.

18. The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe: This book is like a magic trick: it starts from absolutely nothing–a missing person investigation with no clues, no leads, nothing–and proceeds to spin that out for 300 pages. The result is bizarre. The whole investigation could be entirely false, just the invention of the detective's imagination (after all, he has to do something, since he's getting paid). Or perhaps it does correspond to some external reality. Within this question, I think you find a powerful allegory, almost certainly about the futility of life in the modern world (because this is what concerned Abe), but also transferable to so many other things.


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Barthes almost certainly didn’t write about Bernhard. Der Untergeher was published a few years after Barthes’ death anyway and those before 1980 are not as light on their feet as those after i.e. The Loser, Old Masters and Cutting Timber (A.K.A. Woodcutters) and Extinction.

I had the pleasure of reading two Abe novels this year: Woman in the Dunes, which I enjoyed on every level, and Kangaroo Notebook which was entertaining but with a symbology that I found elusive. However, the imagination alone present in both works makes Abe a reader I am interested in reading in 2010. How does The Ruined Map rank amidst the other Abe you have read, if any?

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