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This is not a novel /

Main Author: Markson, David.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Washington, D.C. : Counterpoint, 2001
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Review by Booklist Review

Of course novelist Markson's latest book is a novel. What else could this rueful combination of fact and fictionalized self-portraiture, this book-length list of odd bits of trivia about artists' lives, most of which perversely focuses on their deaths, be called? The "Writer," as the compulsive, hypochondriac narrator refers to himself, has amassed this quirky collection of seemingly random yet wittily connected data in lieu of writing, an activity he's finding difficult, if not repugnant, what with all his headaches and general malaise. Terse and stoic, he's all over the map, tossing off bulletins about Sappho, Fitzgerald, Blake, Picasso, Flaubert, Emerson, and Mahler; relishing snide remarks artists make about each other; and periodically alluding to his desire to write a novel with no characters, plot, or setting, a mission he slyly accomplishes. Mischievous, funny, and smart, Markson will greatly amuse readers who share his fascination with art and the clash between the sublime and the ridiculous that fractures every artist's life. Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Over the course of his career, Markson (Wittgenstein's Mistress; Reader's Block; etc.) has garnered high praise for his erudite, complex texts that challenge notions of genre. He continues to push against the boundaries of fiction with his latest, which echoes the titles of both Magritte's well-known painting of a pipe and a story by Diderot. Lacking plot or characters, this darkly humorous assemblage resembles a commonplace book or a notebook, such as Coleridge's or Emerson's, with entries noting odd facts, quotes and ideas. These entries averaging around 10 per page have the air of memoranda pointing to some future, more fully realized passage that might never materialize. Occasional appearances by someone called Writer ("Not being a character but the author, here") add a note of self-consciousness, reminding us of the performative nature of any work of art. Themes soon emerge: illness, art, fame and hygiene are obvious preoccupations. The entries lead us down the page, maintaining a brisk momentum. There are deaths (Pound of a blocked intestine, Manet of tertiary syphilis), quotations and seemingly out-of-context questions although it is apparent that context is rather beside the point. These references imply some ad hoc, interior encyclopedia: "The legend that as a young man Leonardo was so strong he could straighten a horseshoe with his bare hands." It is best to take Markson at his word and read this not as a novel but as some jester cousin to Pound's Cantos notations that gradually cohere in an underlying progress, a drift toward the momentary reconciliation of art, intellect and mortality. (Apr. 1) Forecast: Markson is at once unpredictable and reliable, to which the inclusion of blurbs from Ann Beattie and David Foster Wallace attests. This book won't appeal for most general fiction readers, but admirers of the author will seek out and savor his latest. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

From the erudite and extraordinary Markson: a sequel to Reader's Block (1997) that has the same high, literary shenanigans as the earlier volume but adds a newly deepened tone as the author looks unblinkingly into the eye of life—and death. The author, known only as "Writer," has plenty to say indeed, though admittedly in the most pared-down manner possible, via a booklength list (as before) of quotations, observations, and statements, all organized into a veritable word-orchestra of leitmotif, allusion, repetition, and subtle but steady growth toward the most meaningful end there can be. No page is eventless in the unceasing flow of this particular river, where a random dip, for example, finds the leitmotif " Timor mortis conturbat me . / The fear of death distresses me," followed by "Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day," and concluded by "Longevity all too often means not a long life but a long death," attributed to Democritus. Gloomy? Sure, but also, without fail, interesting, the one thing left of true importance that the modern writer can be. Markson's list—out-Whitmaning Whitman—touches on death on every page, but also on art and the cost of achieving it. Why does Writer want to write "A novel with no intimation of story whatsoever," one that's "Plotless. Characterless," and also symbol-less. Well, Writer wants something new, something real, something authentic, something that is—yes—art. And he wants it before the death that (Writer lets us know) is increasingly imminent. More than once, Writer cautions us that we must pay attention, be attentive. And so, paying attention, read on through Writer's closing pages: subtle, inventive, ineffably moving. Not to the taste of all, true, but wondrous proof, from one of our few worthy successors to Beckett, that in a literary age mainly of entertainment the art-novel—the true-novel—can still take wing.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.