WHAT TO DO by Pablo Katchadjian


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A writer and his friend talk about all manner of things while the world dissolves around them like a Salvador Dali painting.

Argentinean wunderkind Katchadjian is currently in legal trouble in his native country for daring to remix a novel by the late writer Jorge Luis Borges, so it’s an interesting time to introduce him to English readers. This slim, surrealistic novel is utter nonsense, but at least it’s literary gibberish that’s quite fun to read in the right frame of mind. In the opening pages we meet our nameless narrator and his friend, Alberto, who spend their days lecturing about a variety of subjects at an English university. Of course, on the opening page we also see Alberto grab a questioning student and stuff him into his mouth, as one does. The author is clearly playing with literary conventions, but his automatic writing style is jarring as he makes his playful but absurd attempt at capturing the narrative of thought. There’s a lot of this: “Then, we’re suddenly in an English university and we teach. Then we run through a forest. Then we’re in a tavern with eight hundred wine drinkers. Then we’re in a plaza with an old man who is also a pigeon.” Perhaps Katchadjian is trying to say something about the nature of change, as people and places in the novel constantly transmogrify and shift. The novel still has its touchstones—sometimes the narrator and his friend are on a ship trying to reach an island; sometimes they find themselves at war. But mostly they’re endlessly lecturing at an English university before the universe decides to drop them into another strange and different situation. The overall effect falls somewhere between the delicate constructions of Cesar Aira and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969).

An aesthetically pleasing but perplexing experiment that may prove too improvisational for many readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-56478-705-7
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2015


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