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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Naked Singularity

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Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

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Tale of Genji

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

The Kindly Ones Reviewed at The Complete Review

My copy of this brick arrived this week, and while I intend to give it a fair hearing and read it in full, things like this are complicating my plans:

This massive (just short of a thousand pages in the English (and original French) edition), prix Goncourt-winning epic was certainly one of the most anticipated-by-us titles of 2009, and while we’re not sorry that we worked our way through it — it will be much discussed and reviewed in the months to come (yes, even Sam Tanenhaus and the NYTBR won’t be able to avoid this one), and we’re glad to know what the fuss will be about — and while we were prepared for it not to be a masterpiece (the reviews have been decidedly mixed), we were pretty shocked at what a poor piece of work it is. (At over 3500 words our review is one of the longer ones we’ve ever put up, but it could have been considerably longer: there’s a lot to criticise …..)

Although The Complete Review does roundly criticize The Kindly Ones, it also evoked in me far more interest in this book than did Bookforum’s lukewarm "positive" review.

With the reviews trending either very positive or very negative, and given all of the outrageous stuff chronicled in The Complete Review’s review, It looks like this is shaping up to be a very polarizing book. I’m sure I’ll be registering my opinions at some point, probably not at least for a couple of months.

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  1. First Review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell If you know just one thing about translated literature in 2009, it’s probably that French mega-novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) is publishing in English...
  2. Why You Must Love The Complete Review For one thing. Grafton on the I Tatti-series        In the current issue of The New York Review of Books Anthony Grafton writes...
  3. Review Timing A pretty good, lengthy discussion over at the Lit Saloon of the issues surrounding the timing of reviews. In a nutshell, does the Internet render...
  4. Review Allocation Unfortunately, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s new novel points us to something that is very wrong about book culture today. This book has gotten coverage everywhere. John...
  5. The Pets review The Complete Review reviews The Pets, from Open Letter. This is the one of the first six that I found most intriguing, as most of...

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10 comments to The Kindly Ones Reviewed at The Complete Review

  • I’ve been following the reviews of this book with interest – they seem to be so polarized -either one loves it or absolutely hates it. I was actually surprised at the Complete Review review – I don’t think the book is a complete mess at all, though certainly has some flaws.
    I can see why it’s controversial and I can see why most of the negative comments revolve around Max’s personal life and how that is conveyed in the novel. I think what readers may be missing is that first of all, this is a fictional novel and not one that is particularly aiming for total realism. Much of the narrative is told while Max is mad or hallucinating (in my opinion, that’s why the two policemen keep showing up in unlikely places – I think they just show up in his mind – they are part of the “furies” that are pursuing him). Let’s not forget that Littell is also framing this story within the Oresteia trilogy – so some of Max’s personal life will mirror that of Orestes. And that can be exaggerated or played with as Joyce did with Bloom. There are lots of unlikely events that happen in Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum too that suspend a reader’s belief. It’s still a great historical novel. As is this. It’s definitely not perfect, there are flaws in some of the passages and the writing, but my first thought on finishing the book was, wow, what a reading EXPERIENCE! It really was unlike anything I’d read before. So agree or disagree, I do hope you take the opportunity to read it and decide for yourself.

  • I agree with Blithe Spirit, particularly from “wow” to “before”.
    By the way, on January 29th The Complete Review (via its blog) announced it had taken delivery of this 975, half-a-million word book. The review appeared on February 5th.

  • Steve,
    I daresay that is a endorsement in and of itself.
    Blithe,
    Actually, while reading TCR’s review, I thought of The Tin Drum, as the simultaneous real/unrealism definitely seemed in the tradition of that book. And I did love TTD . . .

  • It’s certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste – but in the midst of so much fiction that reads the same, this was certainly original and visceral and lately, that’s what I’m looking for in fiction, and incidentally why I’ve been turning so much to international fiction in translation.

  • I thought the Complete Review’s review of The Kindly Ones revealed more about the reviewer’s comfort levels than it did about the book. And the grounds on which the reviewer rejects it– he didn’t like the main character and couldn’t identify with him– is a thoroughly amateur basis on which to judge a book.
    “Even a figure who revels in causing others pain and suffering would have been more plausible and hence also more compelling. Aue is just a freak.”
    Does a figure have to be plausible in order to be compelling? Is The Story of an Eye plausible? Or A Clockwork Orange?

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