Glib yet (as she candidly admits) consistently negative, the author's efforts (as she also admits) to sparkle grow wearisome after a time. Give me someone like Tim Parks where - in Where I'm Reading From, say - the criticism is constructive and the sparkle spontaneous. I prefer this crusty Croatian on politics. Tim one could have round for dinner; Dubravka one would just like to give a big hug
The book starts with a great Brodsky quote that I now have as my screensaver at work: "I sit at my desk. My life is grotesque." The first half is mainly about the literary business, disarmingly written in a light self-deprecating tone, but with an amusing passive aggression simmering underneath. It then deepens with some substantial essays about exile and the role of intellectuals in the Balkan conflicts. The book ends back on one of her key themes: the fact that everyone now thinks they can write, including amateur reviews for Amazon. It could have been a different kind of book, e.g. a more in depth comparison between Yugoslav socialist realism and the commercial feel-good books of the global market place. But the unusual structure serves to emphasise that Ugresic doesn't want writers to turn out neat products. It can be a bit frustrating when she leaves you wondering about her specific targets. It's understandable that she doesn't give too many clues about who she's thinking of when she sketches charicatures of different types of East European writer, but I'd love to know who the contemporary writers are that she values or feels are neglected, which small presses she has in mind that have gone out of business etc. She often deliberately avoids rigorous argument in favour of ambiguous and humorous asides. She says for example that Kundera's 'The Joke' can now be found in bookshops filed under humour, which sounds highly unlikely, but would neatly encapsulate the book's theme. It is clear that she is writing about deeply serious issues and in making the book 'sparkle' she leaves you to reflect on one of her fundamental concerns: how difficult it is for serious writers to hold our attention today.