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PORTRAIT OF A MAN KNOWN AS IL CONDOTTIERE

The translation is pleasingly idiomatic, the translator’s introduction illuminating. Perec’s yarn, though, will largely be...

“Leonardo is dead, Antonello is dead, and I’m not feeling too well myself.” Thus we read in French experimentalist Perec’s long-forgotten, rejected debut, now rescued from the dustbin of literary history.

One sympathizes with the Gallimard editor who turned the book down nearly 60 years ago for its “excessive clumsiness and chatter.” Though there’s no real sign of the Oulipo extravagance that would follow, there’s plenty of busy wordplay, a plot that’s not always coherent, and a curiously doubled narrative that turns from internal monologue, complete with bursts of furious paddling down the stream of consciousness (“A single movement and then curtains....One thrust would be enough....His arm raised, the glint of the blade...a single movement”), to more or less ordinary expository prose, though always with a twist. (Or a thrust, for that matter.) The plot, as it is, is fairly slender: A well-born young man with mad skills and loose ethics meets up with an art forger and goes to work revising the history of the Renaissance, churning out an occasional impressionist masterpiece in the bargain, while keeping his cover working the legit side of the art world. Naturally, young Gaspard soon aspires to outdo himself, creating a supposedly unknown work by an Italian master that will be the glory of his career—and accepted at once as the real goods. Blood figures into the plot, as does then Communist Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, given the time of composition, there are some Camus-ian moments (“Nothing is easy. Nothing is quick. Everything is wrong.”). There are also plenty of loose threads, befitting a work that recounts “the double, triple, quadruple game of a fake artist pastiching his own pastiche.”

The translation is pleasingly idiomatic, the translator’s introduction illuminating. Perec’s yarn, though, will largely be of interest to students of postwar French literature and social history, who will find that it makes a nice if not especially memorable puzzle.

Pub Date: April 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-226-05425-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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