PRIVATE NOVELIST by Nell Zink

PRIVATE NOVELIST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Early work by the acclaimed author of Nicotine (2016), Mislaid (2015), and Wallcreeper (2014).

“It having become apparent that I should write a novel, my next concern became which novel I should write. An obvious choice was Avner Shats’ recent debut, Sailing Toward the Sunset.” Thus begins Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats, which comprises the first half of this idiosyncratic (obviously) book. There’s an explanatory (sort of) foreword by the aforementioned Shats, and something like an account of how this peculiar work came to be is proffered by the narrator. Here’s the idea: an admirer of Zink’s writing, Shats encouraged her to write a novel. She responded by sending him her translation of his own novel—a chapter each day—during the month of December 1998. Zink (or the first-person narrator who may or may not be the author) is undaunted by the fact that she can’t read Hebrew (the language in which Shats wrote his novel), and she gets going by questioning the very concept of translation. What is ostensibly an English edition of a story about an Israeli spy turns, before it begins, into autobiography (or faux autobiography), a critique of trends in contemporary “literary” fiction, a consideration of the epistolary novel, and a short story interlude—and that’s just the first four chapters. “European Story for Avner Shats”—which makes up the second part of Private Novelist—is (or so we are told) a writing exercise inspired by prompts provided by Shats. It begins with the following declaration: “This story will be composed in bad English.” Zink earned critical acclaim with her debut, The Wallcreeper, and she made the National Book Award longlist with Mislaid (2015). Private Novelist would never have been published without those successes (no less a personage than Jonathan Franzen tried, and failed, to sell the manuscript). This is not an indictment. Readers who enjoy smart, playful postmodernism will be glad that Private Novelist has finally been made public.

Proof that experimental fiction can be fun.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-062-45830-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016




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