Saturday, April 30, 2005

Soar point: on a review of a Serbian novel

I was pleasantly surprised to find the latest online edition of the LRB includes a review of a translated Serbian novel. Usually, if this journal reviews a novel (there are a mere two in the print edition!) it discusses a novel that has already got plenty of attention elsewhere (Gilead was the most recent). I had not heard of Svetislav Basara before, but he’s not that famous in Serbia either so the reviewer Daniel Soar says. I assumed that the author must be a favourite of the reviewer, as how would such a book get a longish review in a prestigious publication without special pleading? But no. It seems Soars is using the novel to poke some gentle fun at the small European novel that isn’t like the "supercharged literature" of Anglo-America. He makes it clear that the novel is tiresomely self-satisfied. However, the apparent ease with which Soars dismisses the novel means he also succumbs to the same thing. The review features the traditional reference to an unnamed suave elite chattering among themselves (hence the title of the review) and ends with a glib comment that helps no-one (except the reviewer to meet his deadline). I would welcome review space being given over to more in-depth discussions about what is otherwise concealed in snide comments. (I have to say though, I do appreciate his comments about John Berger!). As Daniel Soar is an editor at the LRB, perhaps he can have an influence.

As an alternative, I’d recommend Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co, a charming collection of notes about writers who stop writing. It has the same lightness as David Markson’s This is Not a Novel and reiterates Blanchot’s fragment: Not to write: what a long way there is to go before arriving at that point!

1 comment:

  1. I would just have to add that Svetislav Basara is a famous novelist in Serbia (and other coutries, as he has been translated into several languages). I don't know if he still writes, though, last I've heard of him he was a Yugoslav consulate in Cyprus. Your remark about the "suave elite" seems just.



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