Well I must say I’m a bit at a loss with this book so far. It’s pleasant enough reading—the tone, particularly, which I guess I would call “warmly distant”—but I don’t really have any idea yet why I’m reading. Things just sort of happen (when they happen), and as a reader I feel kind of like I’m just floating along in an undifferentiated sea of…stuff. I don’t come to the book with too many expectations, but given the places I’ve seen it praised and recommended, I had thought it would be more stylistically striking. Instead, it reads like a mash-up of If on a winter’s night a traveler and Life: A User’s Manual, but without the metaliterary verve or great heart.
Which certainly all sounds like I dislike the book, but that isn’t true. I’m enjoying it. I just don’t know what to do with it. But I wonder whether that isn’t the point. I note (like Madame Psychosis) that this first section is called “The Part About the Critics,” and that, whatever its lacks, there are all kinds of readings to pry out of it. So I’m going to suggest that maybe this part is written the way it is on purpose, that it’s intentionally depriving the reader of the things we might usually expect (plot, character, style, etc.) in order to put us in the critical stance, trying to mine every rift for ore. That the Part About the Critics is the part where we learn how to be the kind of critic the book demands. (I’m assuming things change.) Since we don’t really have any of the features we’re used to orienting ourselves in a text with, we have to pick up stones here to pile up a cairn and carve markers in a tree trunk there to find our way. It’s certainly been fun so far seeing the different routes that the readers in this group read have started to pick out for themselves, and in the back of my mind I feel a tiny smirking presence of the author waiting to see how we end up building our own traps for later on…
I also want to make a quick mention of probably my favorite bit so far: the Swabian’s retelling of the Frisian lady’s story. For one thing, I’m a sucker for hypodiegesis (and for the word itself). For another, though, that’s perhaps the only time in reading this first portion that I’ve felt like something was stylistically at stake, with the four-page sentence. The episode was good enough in a number of ways that I expect to be surprised later on by how much the book drops off and deepens like the lobster-waters off the North Shore.