Top critical review
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Not surreal just poor
on 2 October 2009
I spotted this book in the `cult classics' section of a local bookshop. I was immediately attracted to the surrealist cover (never judge a book by this) and the obvious inclusion throughout of old but interesting nonetheless b&w photos around Paris/France (around the period of the text 1920s). It is a short book even without about 30 sides of these stills. The introduction is very informative (almost biographical) about the author and his relationship with Nadja. Obvious point but I read the English translation so wouldn't be able to relate how good the original would be, or how badly the translation may or may not have contributed to the overall effect on the surrealist style of writing. For it's length the rrp at £10 is not cheap.
Now, I didn't find this a `surrealist' novel at all (I'm no literary expert or art critic) but it had no drama, colour, alternative perspectives or parallels - to be clear I wasn't expecting nonsense or some random thoughts but I hoped for a tale out of the ordinary - a Dali with words perhaps: it is not that sort of book. This is a book about an author trying to produce a new style of writing based on what was clearly a challenging relationship (a week of being 'in love') with the real Nadja. My problem and perhaps your problem if you have high expectations based on the 5 star reviews saying it is the `best example of' is that ultimately the style just comes across as plain poor and disconnected. I have never read a story where I felt I needed to re-read the previous sentence then decide I needed to go back to the previous then some more and so on;- it's not that it's difficult or thought-provoking, it's just disorganised and confusing. The story hidden within the soup of text isn't that good either.
I have selected, to my mind, a memorable sentence from the book for you: "I have always, beyond belief, hoped to meet, at night and in a woods, a beautiful naked woman or rather, since such a wish once expressed means nothing, I regret, beyond belief, not having met her."
Putting these criticisms aside; when I finished the book I reflected on the `whole' and whether the presentation and feelings one got amounts to anything. It is really only this that gives it 2 stars instead of 1.
If you're looking for alternative writing (perhaps not `surreal' as such) why not consider Perec's `Avoid' (300page good detective story without using a single letter `e' - even in translation!); or Perec's `Life a Users Manual' a tale constructed on the knights problem in Chess within a hotel of 8 floors each with 8 rooms also where for example he constructs sentences so that a letter `e' progresses from top right to bottom left corner of the page line by line; or Mario Llosa `Conversations in a Cathedral' which is an orderly muddle of events; every chapter of Joyce's Ulysses has virtually a different surreal style. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov is a brilliant, to my mind, surreal story.