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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:

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.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit

You Say

  • Neil G: Think of how less juvenile Marilynne Robinson's writing woul
  • Padraic: Funny, I had no idea Phillip Roth grew up in the Midwest...
  • Ryan Ries: Yeah, what exactly does the Midwestern thing mean? It appea
  • Bernie: Whoa now, mind your Midwestern readers there...
  • Gs: There seems to me an important facet of fiction revealed in
  • David Long: This is a list I posted a few days ago: 25 REASONS TO THA
  • Padraic: I think Saramango gives Coetzee a pretty good run for most a

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

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.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

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

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site

Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.

Interviews from Conversational Reading

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

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Where the Truly Audacious Work Lies

So I took the opportunity in my review of Blinding to editorialize a tiny bit about the state of American fiction. My thesis: if you want epic ambition, look overseas.

I don’t think it’s controversial at all to say that in the past decade or so, the great majority of the real shoot-for-the-moon, thrilling novels published in English have appeared in translation. Things life Freedom and The Goldfinch may pack in a lot of pages, but in terms of style, theme, and structure, they’re extremely tame. They’re page-turners that are mean to be plowed through, and if you don’t linger over the prose that’s because there’s little there to linger over. They don’t take risks, and they give their audience that they want.

Here’s a book that does none of that.

Increasingly, the truly audacious novels published in English are not originally written in this language, but are translated into it. Consider the projects that have appeared here in just the past five years: the My Struggle sextet by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, thousands of pages in length and regularly compared to classics of Modernist literature. Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, an epic of language, geography, politics, and horror. Parallel Stories by Peter Nádas, over a decade in the making and an attempt to sum up all of postwar Eastern Europe. Mathias Énard’s single-sentence, 500-page novel Zone, telling the 2,000-year history of the Mediterranean. The baroque disasters brought to us by Laszlo Krasznahorkai . . .

The list goes on. These books are not only lengthy and ambitious in their subject matter, but they are also formally challenging and take considerable risks with language: extremely long sentences (some as long as fifty pages or more), the incorporation of arcane terminology, the use of mathematical logic and symbols as a part of the prose. It is no exaggeration to call them the works that are driving the novel forward in the twenty-first century, and they are increasingly being studied by students of writing in the United States. To their ranks must be added Mircea Cărtărescu’s 1,500-page Blinding trilogy, originally published in Romanian across the decade from 1996 to 2007, and the first book of which has been published in English this year in Sean Cotter’s marvelous translation.

Insofar as I comprehend it—insofar as it can be comprehended—the aim of this octopus-like work, which seems to move in several different directions on each page . . .

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. New Work from Cees Nooteboom, More At WWB Cees Nooteboom headlines at the  August Words Without Borders. Among the translators this issue is none other than Quarterly Conversaton contributor George Fragopoulos with Lissi...
  2. Language Is Everyone’s Work Ben Marcus discussing his latest collection, Leaving the Sea. MF: In “The Moors,” as in The Flame Alphabet, language is a pollutant: “speech . ....
  3. Do Writers Do Good Work After the Nobel Prize In an article on Haruki Murakami once again being “passed over” for the Nobel Prize in Literature (or, you could argue that he’s not being...
  4. When a Work Is Not Your Work This is interesting and as typically astute as all Tim Parks’ stuff, but I think he’s looking at things the wrong way. These people weren’t...
  5. The Thomas Bernhard Checklist Here's your guide to all the Bernhard available in English. . . . continue reading, and add your comments...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

6 comments to Where the Truly Audacious Work Lies

  • Lance

    Any idea on the schedule for The Body and The Right WIng? Also: have you heard anything about a reprint or new translation of Knausgaard’s first book?

  • Lance

    I agree with you about the state of American fiction and I blame the MFA machine (which now begins in middle school) that has come to work a lot like Hollywood. Lots of market research and giving people what they want and it’s all nice and fine. I spent years reading stories for a fiction prize offered by Prairie Lights to the students of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. They all start out pretty much the same, “I’ll never forget the summer I was 12… I’m changed.” That’s the last time they did something other than workshop a story into the ground. Even writers who used to be at least trying to nudge the envelope have consciously broadened their audience to include the book club crowd (think George Saunders and Lydia Davis). I think it’s time to demote MFA fiction to genre with the rest of the predictable, safe, page-turning junk food. It’s frustrating and disappointing but it’s what Americans want. I’m in awe of stats from Iceland and Norway and Romania etc about not only the numbers of books they sell but the quality of their bestsellers. I know that these countries have the population diversity of a college town but still…

  • Paul

    Vanessa Place’s ‘La Medusa’ seems like an American authored novel that fits in this category, as does De La Pava’s Naked Singularity. Others?

  • I think the fireworks may come from the fact that these authors inhabit a space between the modernist and the postmodernist, and that the conversation in Europe is based around the modern. Cartarescu etc. look from the modern perspective – ‘news that stays news’ – but relentlessly pursue it with the doubt of the postmodern. It’s like approaching modernism, but from the point of exploring ‘perception’ rather than ‘reality’; a more introspective form of the modern, perhaps, less societal. (Not to mention the fact that both modernism and this style of writing were forged in the heat of disasters which makes all doubt the point of art, and are often overshadowed by the Spanish Civil War, the fall of communism, the drug wars, and so on. I think America’s position of twentieth-century dominance is more likely to produce ‘systems novelists’ like Pynchon and DeLillo – gigantic systems were needed to maintain this flimsy hegemony, and naturally inspired paranoia. But what hopes for the multipolar twenty-first century world in American fiction?)

  • Mike

    I agree with much of this discussion, though I’m not sure where the blame lies. Perhaps it is the MFA program, perhaps not. Does it lie with the marketplace? In some ways I doubt it, especially with the dire reports of people just not reading (though I would argue that reading has always been done by an elite, since universal literacy is a relatively recent phenomenon). I really do not read much contemporary American fiction for this reason: it just really is not good, with a few exceptions, such as Vollmann’s Seven Dreams novels. I think that some of our best writers have actually gone to other media, such as cable TV and film. Charlie Kaufman has written some brilliant screenplays, and I really admire the work of Paul Thomas Anderson.

    There is indeed much to admire in the fiction of Central Europe. And not just in the living writers. The past hundred years of history, at a minimum–the shock wave of the First World War(and its catalyst)onward–has produced some great and resonant work. Some of these are just now being translated into English, such as Ernst Weiss’ fabulous Georg Letham, Physician and Murderer.

  • Max

    Henry, it seems a little odd to say that Proust and Kafka and Faulkner were not exploring “perception” rather than “reality,” or that their works were not completely saturated with doubt. There was doubt before postmodernism.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>