A loosely concatenated series of seven stories, all focusing on writers in various and cunning guises.
The opening tale introduces Mathias Olbane, a suicidal writer and former inmate at a penitentiary now plagued with oncoglyphosis, a rare illness whose manifestation is a “retraction of the scalp,” a condition that torments him. Convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization, despite his emphatic denials, Olbane served 26 years—and came out with plenty of material. “Begin-ing” plunges us into a Kafkaesque world in which a man is being tormented into making a confession about almost anything—“that he has contacts with parallel universes, with aliens, that since his birth he has been a double agent"—although he professes that his mind is completely empty. Bruno and Greta, his incredulous interlocutors, turn out to be sadistic, murderous and insane. “Acknowledgments,” one of the few stories with a lighter tone, is in fact a delicious sendup of a writer’s elaborate appreciation for all the help he received in completing his novel, but also included is a list of those who did not aid the creative process, those whose “malicious critiques, mean-spirited little reviews, and unpardonable silences carried substantial weight towards my books’ lack of success.” In the futuristic “The Strategy of Silence in the Work of Bogdan Tarassiev,” the narrator explores an author whose career spans a period from 2017 to 2053 and whose periodic silences raise cryptic issues about creativity.
Many of Volodine’s writers inhabit a “post-exotic” world, in which they’re obligated to remember the atrocities and horrors of the 20th century—and to serve as repositories of a dark cultural memory.