READER'S BLOCK by David Markson


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 From the erudite Markson (Wittgenstein's Mistress, 1990, not reviewed; etc.): a terse, modernist novel implying that history is over, the arts finished--yet offering extended, Beckett- like pleasures. ``Reader'' is the speaker here, and he speaks about ``Protagonist.'' Plot and event? ``Someone nodded hello to Reader on the street yesterday'' pretty much takes care of the action side of things. More crucially, Reader declares that ``I am growing older. I have been in hospitals,'' and asks, ``Do I wish to put certain things down?'' Indeed he does: and the remainder of the book consists of Reader's aphoristic recollections of a lifetime of--well, reading. As these ``memories'' accumulate, Reader does have other questions--whether, as novelist, he should have ``Protagonist'' live on a beach or beside a cemetery (and if a cemetery, who is the woman Protagonist sees coming there each day to mourn?). Other questions include the familiar ``What is a novel in any case?'' Reader conjectures that he's creating ``in some peculiar way. . . an autobiography,'' and asks whether it's ``Nonlinear? Discontinuous? Collage-like?'' (Answers: Yes, yes, and yes.) ``Protagonist has come to this place because he had no life back there at all,'' explains Reader as he continues with his indefatigable, funny, often terribly wrenching tapestry of facts both known and obscure (``Vachel Lindsay committed suicide by drinking Lysol''), quotations homely and exotic (``O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!''), opinions of all literary sorts (``On the evidence, Shakespeare's small Latin was plainly more than that''), and assertions in a continuing refrain ``Arnold Toynbee was an anti-Semite''). A novel, in all, for the ultra-readerly only, though in its own way often deeply melancholy, suggestive, and moving. ``Nothing bores me more than political novels and the literature of social intent, Nabokov said'' is followed by ``Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.'' Nabokov speaks for Markson's aesthetic aims, while Shakespeare synopsizes the personal wistfulness and deep sorrow permeating this remarkable book.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1996
ISBN: 1-56478-132-1
Page count: 193pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996


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