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 LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

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 […]

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.

You Might Also Like:

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: What About the Bosses? Daniel Hartley has a highly worthwhile post on vol 1 of Your Face Tomorrow. Therein he brings up an excellent point that, I must admit,...
  5. 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...

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

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.

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>