on 7 July 2011
The only--ostensibly--fictional character in this novel is Writer. 'Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing,' the book begins, and scattered throughout it are Writer's thoughts on novels and writing, which eventually give way to personal information about Writer, information that the reader may already have gathered from the rest of the book.
And the rest of the book is a collection of baldly-stated facts, most of them about writers and particularly about their deaths, brief quotations, and mere phrases. None of these is random nor are they irrelevant to each other and to Writer's situation--in fact, the book is a marvel of organisation--despite appearances:
'Virtually every inadequacy in recent French literature is due to absinthe, Daudet said in the late 1800's.
Annals 165. Where Tacitus actually does, does, call a spade "an implement for digging earth and cutting turf".
Paul Klee died of cardiac arrest after years of enduring scleroderma.
Sarah Orne Jewett died of a cerebral hemmorhage.
Thomas of Celano.
I have wasted all my youth chained to this tomb.
Michelangelo protested to Julius II.
Why hasn't Writer ever known? What is the black liquid that spills out of the dead Emma Bovary's mouth?'
That's most of the page I chanced to open the book to and ought to give a perfect idea of what the writing is like. You could, I suppose, use it as a bedside book of trivia, you Philistine you, but in doing so you'd be losing the novel itself: There is a story here, though it's told in an untraditional way. And it's left me more keen than ever to read all that Markson wrote.