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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    I'm surprised to learn Andres Newman is so young. Also, great overview of his books in English. Andrés Neuman is... »
  • The Future ModianoThe Future Modiano

    The Complete Review has the details of the future Englishing of our most recent Nobel laureate. And also, sales figures. For... »
  • Quarterly Conversationi Issue 38Quarterly Conversationi Issue 38

    Issue 38 right here. or TOC after the jump. Features Readings, Fragments,... »
  • On KafkaOn Kafka

    Rivka Galchen on the new Kafka bio by Reiner Stach. I have come to the conclusion that anyone who thinks about Kafka for... »
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    My review of Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano. The most focused of the book’s three diffuse novellas is... »
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  • Infinite FictionsInfinite Fictions

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    At BOMB: A couple of months after that, in February 2011, Béla Tarr presented the world premiere of The Turin Horse at... »
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    This is a pretty fair assessment of Bolaño: A Biography. Denied access to papers in the Bolaño estate, the Argentine... »
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You Say

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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

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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