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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You Say

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  • Padraic: Funny, I had no idea Phillip Roth grew up in the Midwest...
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  • Bernie: Whoa now, mind your Midwestern readers there...
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  • David Long: This is a list I posted a few days ago: 25 REASONS TO THA
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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.


  • 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: 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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