THE JOURNALIST by Harry Mathews


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There are no safe places for the disintegrating self, not even the private journal; that is what the unnamed ""journalist"" discovers in this teasing, lightly involving novel from Mathews (Singular Pleasures, 1993, etc.). Middle-aged, middle-class, he lives in a college town in an unidentified country. He has an unglamorous office job, a loving wife (Daisy), an equally loving mistress (Colette), and a lovable if enigmatic son in high school (Gert). Daisy and his doctor, worried about his mental state, suggest he keep a journal, and he starts his new project with zest, seeing it as a ""a hold on reality,"" a way of reconciling his two selves -- the one that experiences life with the one that observes it. Soon enough, however, this journal, which he had envisioned as an instrument of control, turns into a tyrant that controls him. He becomes obsessed with the right way of classifying experience, and the margins sprout headings and subheadings like weeds. Meanwhile, his relationships are suffering. Daisy turns secretive, and his best friend, Paul, is avoiding him. Could they be having an affair? Why is Gert suddenly so friendly with Colette: More mischief? And why is there never enough time for his lonely task of keeping his journal and getting it right? He cuts back on sleep (his love life is already a thing of the past) and uses the office for his writing, until his boss forces him to take indefinite leave. ""I've lost them,"" he acknowledges, referring to all the people in his life, just before his final dissolution and hospitalization, when a new narrative voice supplies rather too pat explanations for all the puzzles. Not as bleak as it sounds. Mathews chronicles his diarist's dilemma with humor and gentle irony; his slide into the abyss occasions more bemusement than terror.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1564781658
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Godine