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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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

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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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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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  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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