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.

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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

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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.


  • 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 […]
  • On Gottland by Mariusz Szczygieł September 15, 2014
    Gottland is not a novel, but that proves difficult to remember. The book, playfully subtitled Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, is technically a work of reportage, and its author, Mariusz Szczygieł, one of Poland’s best-known journalists. Most of Gottland’s tales, however, seem better suited to Soviet science fiction—or even Russian absurdism— […]

YFTS: A Dance to the Music of Time

(We continue our reader responses to Your Face Tomorrow with Maylin Scott, who made quite a few comments during out read. Here she talks about the pivotal scene where Deza stands up and dances, and how it refracts throughout all three volumes of YFT.)

Dark Back of TImeHaving now finished Your Face Tomorrow (and read All Souls and Dark Back of Time for good measure–fascinating and complimentary reads both), I keep coming back to one pivotal section that seems to encapsulate many of the resonating thoughts and themes of the novel.

The scene takes place right in the middle of YFT (Volume II pages 185-201) which I don’t think is at all coincidental, and it is the one where Deza looks out his window at his neighbour dancing with the two women, then starts to dance himself, eventually realizing the trio are in turn observing him and copying his dance with the newspaper. They signal to Deza to join them and he, embarrassed, backs away. At first I was in the spell of how breathtakingly beautiful the image was–that section contains some of the best writing in the whole novel–but I think it serves a much more important narrative function. And it’s all to do with the fact that Deza refuses to join in the dance.

As the novel progressed, I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader frustrated (but still intrigued) by Deza’s character–his brooding aloofness and apathy, both in his initial response to his job (and its possible sinister implications) but also particularly in his relationships with women. Marias never lets us glimpse Deza when his love life is flourishing. In YFT, he’s separated from Luisa and we don’t get a sense of how they met or their early courtship and marriage. In All Souls, he is brooding over the absence of his lover Claire and the eventual end of that affair. And there couldn’t be a colder, more dispassionate and mechanical sexual encounter than the one Deza has with Perez Nuix, made all the more sad and horrifying by Deza’s competitive obsession with whether Tupra has also slept with her. Marias has created a main character who muses intelligently and philosophically over life but stands outside it as a reluctant participant. And this dancing scene is a crucial narrative turning point. Deza is invited to join in, to participate, to engage with his neighbours and he refuses. He needs to remain the passive outsider. But this is also the midway point of the novel when Deza turns from being the observer–of the clients he makes reports on, of Tupra’s horrifying actions with the sword in the washroom, and his subsequent viewing of Tupra’s videotapes–to becoming the active instigator of violence in the episode with Custardoy, forcing him to act in a way contrary to his previous beliefs as to what he is morally and physically capable of.

So why does Marias create this distant outsider? This personality suits Deza for his spying duties, but it curiously distances the reader from engaging more emotionally with the character. Reading Dark Back of Time–a sort of philosophical meditation on the blend of fiction/reality that resulted in Marias’s life as result of having published All Souls–illuminated a number of aspects of Marias’ style and intellectual concerns, a key one being the fine line between fiction and reality, or the perception of how closely they can become intertwined, mostly through strange coincidences. (These can be as slim or amusingly innocuous as the one experienced by myself–reading in Dark Back of Time about Melville’s treatment at the hands of his stingy publishers while in a hotel room located on Melville St .) Marias likes to explore how literature, consciously or not, affects people’s subsequent actions and in YFT, he seems to be challenging his readers to put themselves in Deza’s position in terms of being either a passive observer of the novel, or to actively engage with its ideas (as we’ve been doing in this forum), and let it continue to influence and reverberate through your own life. And there couldn’t be a better metaphor for this notion than inviting one to dance with a newspaper, to dance with words as your partner.

A Dance to the Music of TimeThis “dance” is also a dance with literary tradition, fascinated as Marias is with notions of time and memory, both historical and cultural. Readers here have compared him in style to Sebald, Bernhard and Proust in particular. But where Proust takes a submerged moment in time and, from a different temporal perspective, examines how that memory can change, Marias almost suspends time. He freeze frames the episode, has his narrator walk around it, ponder it from all angles, and then turns the projector on again so that the event loops concurrently alongside the narrative present, with frequent inescapable incursions into it. As such, I’d like to suggest that, thematically at least (and definitely not in terms of writing style), the novel that YFT reminded me the most of is Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, though this comparison didn’t hit me until I’d finished the book. Marias’s novel is a dance with the music of time, or a dance with time itself, with an accompanying narrative movement and use of language that is graceful, sensual and elegant. And so back to that key episode and the end of that section and Deza’s summation of himself: “That is what I will be, what was and has never been. That is, I will be time, which has never been seen, and which no one ever can see.”

But Marias has made us see, giving us an imaginative vision of time in this extraordinary novel.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: The Perils of Dancing So a few more comments about last week's section, pp. 122 - 201. I'd like to draw everyone's attention to page 194, which I think...
  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: 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....
  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: The Redemption of Sympathy In my reading, the point of Deza recalling that awful story his father told him about Ronda--where the fascists baited a man like a bull...

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