Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hoping for a bad review

Like Mr Orthofer at The Literary Saloon, I want to see Novel 11, Book 18, Dag Solstad's latest novel in translation. Unlike him, however, I was disappointed by Shyness & Dignity, perhaps because Paul Binding writing in the TLS said that "Solstad ... shares [Thomas] Bernhard's galvanic anger" and I had expected something more than ordinary. I would not have been interested without that brief comparison.

Reviews often have this trip-flipping effect. Melissa McClements' exasperated reading of Vila-Matas' Montano's Malady was enough to make me go out and buy the book. By happy coincidence, she's reviewed Novel 11, Book 18 too. Before reading it, I braced myself with hope and anticipation for another display of offended sensibilities. "It might be a profound exploration of philosophical ideas" she concludes after a plot summary "but as a novel it’s an emotionless and unsettling read." Oh. Isn't being unsettled an emotion, and are ideas anything other than philosophical?

It's impressive how well McClements uses key words to their full potential: "profound" is here freighted with so much disdain it glows. Still, I would have welcomed an explanation of the title which is what first excited me about his work. Harvill Secker can be forgiven its health-bringing truncation of Montano's Malady for the English market by retaining such a bleak heading. Like Michael Orthofer, however, I wonder why they didn't promote it by sending a copy to European fiction's most enthusiastic Britlitblogger.

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