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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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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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.


  • [[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: Some Thoughts on Finishing Volume 2 of Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias

Depending on your point of view, the opening scene to volume 2 of Your Face Tomorrow is arguably a red herring: the scene involves Deza and his former wife Luisa (the only one so far, I believe, in which we actually see these estranged lovers together), plus a gypsy woman whom Luisa gives help to once by granting a seemingly minor request that in fact turns out to be hugely significant: she buys a cake for the son of this destitute woman.

Plotwise, the story has nothing to do with what has happened in volume 1 and what will happen in volume 2; yet themewise, to see its relevance we need look no further than the book’s opening words: “Let us hope that no one ever asks us for anything . . .”

At first this must seem a great advance over volume 1, which began with an admonition to never say anything at all to anybody–now the narrator is only admonishing against one small part of conversation. But really, how much of a step forward is this? So we may speak to one another, but only if we deny ourselves the very human–perhaps instinctual–act of attempting to build a relationship with the person that we speak to.

As the opening pages of volume 2 indicate, relationships and indebtedness will be the sign by which this second book of Your Face Tomorrow navigates. Perez Nuix will embark upon a lengthy, personal night with Deza for the sake of asking him a favor (a favor that, as it turns out, involves debts). Tupra will recruit Deza as an assistant on a horrific evening that will forever alter the nature of their relationship. The tectonic plates beneath the surface of this story are shifting, all for the sake of favors.

These are all very fitting developments for the second book, the hinge book of a trilogy. As one might say of the spy thrillers that Your Face Tomorrow owes so much to, the plot thickens. Now that Marias has laid out the history and particulars of Deza’s situation, he is grating his creations authority to operate within these parameters they please. His characters are taking on life.

And indeed, Deza is having interesting thoughts. As early as page 82–before any swords or beatings or hairnet nooses–Deza will compare his boss to Iago and find the former a touch more sinister:

Tupra would never have to think or say or propose to himself the very ugly words spoken by the Moor’s standard-bearer: “I’ll pour this pestilence in his ear,” because he persuaded purely by dint of persuasion and would rarely hatch any plot based on false information or lies, or so it seemed to me: his reasonings reasoned, his enthusaisms enthused and his dissuasions really did dissuade, and he needed nothing more . . .

I would argue that here Tupra comes off worse than Iago, for the latter must resort to blasphemies to get his way, whereas Tupra is a shade smarter: a man disciplined enough to only hatch plots based on facts he can verify, yet a man who, as well shall see, seems able to bend facts toward whatever action he wishes to justify.

Volume 2, then, is the story of Deza’s descent into the heart of darkness, into Tupra-cum-Iago’s thicket of justifications, and indeed this volume is much darker than the first. We see hints that the British intelligence agency known as the MI6–which Deza, Tupra, and the others work for–is doing the bidding of the Italian gangsters known as the Camorra (83). We have a lengthy digression regarding Judgment Day, starting at page 121 and ending around 135, to my eyes the blackest, most implacably hopeless stretch I’ve yet read in this book. In this stretch we see–again and again and again–victims confronting their executioners in some durationless afterlife massing of all the dead before a judging God, accusations and accusations without end, but scarcely any sort of a reply. And then, of course, there is Tupra’s masochistic beating, described in quite a bit of detail, a form of judgement in and of itself.

Yet though there is much judging in volume 2, at times it directly questions the very worth of judgment. Deza recalls–yet again–that his father was against judging or avenging himself on Del Real, the man who falsely imprisoned him during the fascist era in Spain. “It would have given him a sort of a posteriori justification, a false validation, an anachronistic motive for his action.” (130) Again the matter of “biographical dread” is raised, the issue of ruining an entire well-lived life for one final error that–in history’s judgment–effaces the whole of your life so that humanity’s remembers you only for your death. And on page 128 it is even implied that Christian idea of a God meting our judgment to evildoers is merely a sop to the weak. In effect, these voices say that there is a more honorable form of life that does not concern itself with judgment.

But then amidst all this heaviness of beating and judgment and history there is the lightness of dream. Having spent two years living in countries other than that which I was born in, I found much to empathize with in Deza’s statement

I still had the illusory feeling that this other country was just a parenthesis, that my second sojourn in England was a life not entirely lived, a life that does not really matter and for which I was barely responsible, or when the time came to hold that ever more improbable dance–it has doubtless been abolished now, cancelled until further notice or, more likely, until further belief–a time that is no longer time or is frozen and motionless. [148]

In that sentence Deza talks about a dance that one day he may be involved in, a dance that he cannot take up until he wakes from this dream that is in England. In one of the book’s best digressions, starting on page 92, Deza again takes up the dreamlike life of the expatriot, riffing on dream and life abroad alike:

Any idea that emerges from the dream-world is often dismissed or invalidated for that very reason, because of its dark, uncertain provenance, because such ideas seem to emerge out of a dream smokescreen, but do not always disappear once consciousness returns . . . [92]

But then after establishing the dream-like life he lives in England, and after claiming he may never return to life’s dance, Deza in fact does dance–with a newspaper, yes, but a dance nonetheless–on an evening after he has become implicated in a brutal beating that seems to defy his insistence that England is but a dream for him. Are the facts of the world he lives in pulling him out of his dream? It is perhaps that now Deza is beginning to accept responsibility for this life he leads, that after witnessing the beating of a stupid but unjustly punished man he has taken to heart the fact that he cannot merely stand by and let history take its course. I wonder, though, that given all the horror and tyranny that we have been reminded of in volumes 1 and 2 whether Marias will permit his stand to be more than symbolic, more than an addressing of his conscious.

We should stop here to appreciate Marias’ elaborate structuring, how he dances back and forth between the dramatic night at the disco and the ensuing conversation with Tupra that clearly indicates a turning point for Deza and the evening a few days hence where Deza is still dealing with the fallout from these events that Marias continues to unfurl and unfurl before us (right up and into the third book). And there is another strand from volume 2 that will continue in 3: Perez Nuix’s request, a request that is being made, I believe, on an evening that Marias has not specified and that may perhaps come to play a significant role in this saga that Marias is unwinding for us.

One looks forward to volume 3 wanting to know many things: which father-figure will end up leading the way for Deza’s future, Tupra or Wheeler? What will be Marias’ final judgment be on this contemporary era that he counterpoints again and again to various bloody, totalitarian moments from Europe’s history? Which woman till Deza end this book with? Will Rafita ever be heard from again after being beat to within an inch of his life? And what of Perez Nuix’s request that we already know Deza will grant–will it spell his ouster from England and from this dream life, or will it lead him to finally make of England the life he has thus far denied it?

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: Some Thoughts After Finishing the First Volume of Your Face Tomorrow One starts Your Face Tomorrow filled with foreboding. How else to read the opening segment, a section that lets us know that everything we will...
  2. YFTS: Some Thoughts on the First 90 Pages of Your Face Tomorrow and the Perils of Talking Now that we've gotten our feet wet with the first 90 pages or so of Your Face Tomorrow, some initial thoughts. For those who aren't...
  3. 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...
  4. YFTS: Javier Marias as Translator Turns out we’re having a bit of a translation theme this week. As I noted on Monday, Javier Marias is not only one of Spain’s...
  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...

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