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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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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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Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

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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.

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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

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Tale of Genji

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

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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


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 […]

YFTS: A Confession, Deza's Descent, and Shadow

I must begin this with a confession: as I suspect many of you have already, I went drastically ahead of schedule in my YFTS reading. It’s a testament to Marias’ abilities as a storyteller that after 1,000 pages of this book Volume 3 has me more hooked than ever (and that’s saying something, as YFT is certainly not a book that flagged for me very often). I do have some critiques of this book, but I will say that more than anything I’ve read lately, YFT has satisfied hugely on the level of plot, something I seem to be finding less and less often in literary fiction.

But anyway, onto the blogging! Though I’m ahead and will likely finish before the week of July 11, I’m going to continue blogging the read up through that week as though I weren’t. And I should preface all of these final posts with the fact that I have very mixed opinions about divulging any spoilers for these last couple hundred pages, given that the plot is so ripe, and I hate to spoil a good plot for any reader.

I’m curious to know people’s opinions on why Marias has chosen to label this segment “shadow.” It’s an odd choice for a section that takes place during Deza’s return to his home country, a place he has been pining for throughout YTF and which one would think would inspire a noun with more presence than shadow. Yet his opinion on Madrid and his life there is very ambiguous. At one point he says that two weeks is a good amount of time to be home, since after seeing his kids and friends he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. That’s certainly not how I felt upon returning to my hometown after two years in foreign countries. And Deza seems to be at a distance from all the people and things he comes back to. His father in particular seems worthy of the word shadow, though even Deza’s return to his apartment, children, and books is strangely muted.

Distant as Deza’s father did seem, though, I found the scene in which father and son are back together one of the more touching and well-wrought segments in the entire book. The moment on page 272, when Deza momentarily becomes the father and his father the son, was lovely, as is the fragment “and so perhaps, more than anything, he saw now with his memory.”

But I feel like I’m burying the lede here, so let’s get right to the main event from this segment: [Spoiler alert] Who was surprised by Luisa’s shiner? It seemed inevitable that some complication would arise once Deza returned to Spain, and it seemed even more inevitable that it would involve Luisa, although the turn to violence in this form was a bit of a surprise. And of course Deza’s parenthetical words (words we’ve been leading up to all throughout this book) will prove prophetic: “(who knows when anything will stop once it’s begun)” [257].

And I’d also like to put forth this question from the comments to last week’s post:

I suppose it’s the sort of thing one ought to have seen coming, but has anyone besides me found themselves less and less able to identify with Deza, or to excuse his decisions, over the course of the the “Poison” and “Shadow” sections? Tupra I can grudgingly respect; he seems acting on an ideal. Deza seems oddly & increasingly incapable of caring about much besides his own personal spheres, the things that are important to him. As far as we know, that wasn’t & isn’t the case for Tupra or Wheeler.

I can kind of see this, as Deza has been more or less holding up an ideal contrary to Tupra’s view of the world, but now with Luisa he’s so easily prepared to abandon all of that. It would indeed be easier to bear if Deza was willing to admit the superiority of Tupra’s world from the start, but he continually insists on upholding a contrary standard, and it is disappointing to see him abandon it at this juncture.

And now for something completely different. I loved the section where Deza is looking at the paintings in the Prado [301-17]. Marias is a writer frequently put in the same conversation as Sebald, and though I didn’t see a lot of obvious stylistic similarities throughout YFT, I could definitely see it here. This section had the same “sifting through the archives of history” quality as Sebald, particularly with the images of the paintings Deza observed sliced into the text. I particularly liked Deza’s reading of “The Three Ages and Death”:

. . . in the background, a solar landscape that looks instead lunar, grim and desolate, with a ruined tower in flames; the inevitable cross hangs in the sky. I had always wondered, eve since I was a child if the young woman and the old were the same person at very different ages or if they were two separate women. I mean, if the older woman had always been tugging at herself from youth onwards and into old age, when she finally allows herself to be carried off by Death, for if that were not the case, the subject would be graver and more troubling. [314-5]

I like the injection of ambiguity in there, whether the older woman drawing her younger self toward old age and death or a corrupted woman simply looking to corrupt another. (Both interpretations have obvious resonances for YFT).

And lastly, I’d like to point out all those statues that Deza comes across as he tracks Custardoy through Madrid (and what an odd name in a book of notable names). With their little nameplates and sentence-long bios they seem the very embodiments of the long past stuck somehow in the present, not wholly of it but not wholly irrelevant either. It felt very appropriate for Deza to smack up against them again and again and again at this point in the book, the one moment where Deza is perhaps more in the present–and divorced from the long past–than any other so far.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: when you look at your life as a whole the chronological aspect gradually diminishes in importance All right, so I’m assuming that everyone who reads this post is up to page 180, also known as the end of section 1, “Fever,”...
  2. YFTS: Turning Points The first thing I'd like to remark about on our current section of Your Face Tomorrow (we're in Week 13) is this was the first...
  3. YFTS: I am Myself My Own Fever and Pain, and Dogs Have 18 Toes Before we get started on this week’s discussion, a few housekeeping items. First off, remember that on Monday we’ll be joined by Margaret Jull Costa,...
  4. YFTS: Cleaning House I also think that now is an appropriate time to talk about the covers, which, frankly, at first mystified me but now I believe I...
  5. YFTS: Favors, and The Return of the Socks (!) For those of you who remain with me, we are now just beginning "Dance," the first section of volume 2 of Javier Marias' long book...

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2 comments to YFTS: A Confession, Deza's Descent, and Shadow

  • RJH (formerly Richard)

    On page 322, Deza: “‘I’ve spent some time now being a shadow,’ I thought, ‘I have been and am a shadow at Tupra’s side, accompanying him on his journeys and talking to him almost every day…Now I’m playing shadow to this man whom I’m not even sure is the man I’m looking for…’”

    This, but also this: how ironic that, upon his return to his own “patria,” indeed, his city, home, he feels insubstantial, as if not London and his adventures there were the parentheses in a life, but rather this two-week, unannounced visit to his estranged wife, his children who have almost but not quite forgotten him, his dying father, his streets and byways and alleys and restaurants and friends (and how fascinating that we don’t meet any of them, whereas we’ve met so many people in London)….Deza returns to his own past, his “home,” now covered in shadows and ambiguities and uncertainties and dislocations, and has become a shadow of himself, of the man he was, or thought he was, of the man he imagined himself to be through the eyes of Luisa, through the eyes of his fater, sister, children, his patria…The title of this section seems not only apt to me, but prescient, intense and echoing…

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that the section in the Prado as he wanders among the paintings and muses on “The Three Faces of Death,” and indeed of death, is quite powerful…

    And Custardoy! Yes, in a book of names, false names, half-names, mis-names and anti-names, this one is a lovely creation…But then he appears, this Custardoy, along with his father Custardoy, in A Heart So White…and so it is with a kind of fascinated relish that I witness his return in this book…

    So many other things…but I will be perhaps the first to disagree here…perhaps it is that I am always more attracted to the ambiguous ones, to the ones who are lost and confused and seem to drift through their lives apprehending so much but unable to impose their own wills on things in a forceful, direct, or coldly ambitious way…so while I have some grudging admiration for Tupra, yes, and have definitely gained a strong ambivalence toward Deza with his shifting, his not deciding, his letting himself be blown along in different directions like a leaf in the wind (Jung on Nietzsche)…I cannot agree that I admire Tupra more than Deza. Tupra/Reresby/Dundas/Ure is cold, calculating, and seems to me a strong, attractive, yes, somewhat admirable, yes, but ultimately sinister representation of the way in which our world has tended lately…unlike Richard III with his own evil calculations, Tupra is not even king, he works in the shadows…HE IS A SHADOW, TOO…and his shadowy poison has now seeped far into Deza’s bloodstream…not that this is Tupra’s “fault,” that’s not what I’m saying, it’s most clearly Deza’s and all his toothless drifting, but now, I imagine, that he seems about become other than toothless, to act, to bite, to strike, we realize how insidious Tupra himself is, Tupra and his shadowy world of indirect influence on events and people and life and death…Tupra is Sir Death, he is Death in “The Three Faces of Death,” and while he wears a different guise, a guise of attractiveness, of the decided, the decider, the active rather than passive, he does not, it seems to me, act truly out of even love of patria (which can be bad enough in its own way), but, as Deza has pointed out so many times in this novel so far, out of his own interest FIRST, and his love of patria, perhaps (and adopted patria, probably, at that), second…

    Lest this seem too argumentative, I must say I loved your post, too…I agree with so much…but while I have cringed at watching Deza’s face change, in no way can I say admire, I love, I adore, I relate to him LESS than I relate to Tupra…Tupra is the modern face of evil to me in this book, and our hero Deza (or anti-hero), slides deeply into that morass or pit as this novel goes on, and I don’t know if he’ll be able to extricate himself…I fault him for this, yes, but I also understand him–he who lives his entire life as if he is in another country, and perhaps the wench (his soul? his honor? his individuality?) truly is dead, or dying…

  • I’m with Richard — I think “shadow” refers to Deza himself.

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