A ROOM by Youval Shimoni


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Interlocking tales of art, power, and the sometimes very odd behavior of creators.

Several rooms make up the landscape of Israeli writer and editor Shimoni’s long novel, which itself is made up of three pieces. The first and by far the longest, "The Lamp," is an existential detective story of sorts: on a military base, a unit charged with making training films records a poor fellow who has caught on fire, “clusters of sparks spread into the night, flying everywhere, ascending and gliding.” Enter a police investigator, who, over hundreds of pages, gets warmer and colder in solving the case, just as a camera frames a scene in close-up and then wide angle. That this is a play within a play is suggested by various subtle directions: here the director of the training film views the investigator “from a bird's eye view, from the back of a genial, fat-bellied wild goose,” even as the investigator looks at the director straight on, the master sergeant looks at the investigator “from the height of treetops, from which apples peek out with blushing faces,” and a lizard on the ceiling looks down at the investigator’s “sweaty collar and the sweat stain on his back.” The second section, "The Drawer," again with shifting POVs, describes a student who attempts to re-create a crucifixion scene from Renaissance art with human actors in a microcosmic “room in which a bloodied body is laid and bloats until filling it entirely.” The third, "The Throne," a short fable, helps explain why it is that a black ant should be such an object of fascination for the first person we meet in the book. Shimoni goes long and takes his time—and ours—in building a story whose overarching message seems to be that the world is a strange and ugly place from which only art can save us, even if art can sometimes be a strange and ugly enterprise itself.

A literary monument or a chore? Shimoni’s heavily experimental book has been likened to J.R. Gaddis’ The Recognitions and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, but it lacks their depth and humanity and shares with them mostly only their length.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62897-133-0
Page count: 596pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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