Monday, September 02, 2013

September notebook

The novel, like all art, reaches for immortality, but the unfinished novel is bound up with mortality and the limits of time. In my view, that makes it even more beautiful than a finished novel. We're left to imagine the completion that is forever suspended. How was the writer ever going to tie up such a complicated plot? What was he or she going to do with all those characters and their noisy, difficult yearnings? And what was it all supposed to mean? As we circle these questions, the author becomes paradoxically more and more present to us in the work left behind. We feel his or her humanity because we see the traces of mortality everywhere on the page. These books are marked by the rush to finish coupled with the wish to never end. —Robert Siegel, “The Unfinished Novel,” Bookforum (online), 7/24/13

In my office I tend to be racing through short books — Russell Hoban’s “Turtle Diary” and Edward St. Aubyn’s Melrose books and Lydia Millet’s “Magnificence” just now, while at the bedside table and on trains and airplanes I’m grinding away at monsters over a period of months, if not years: Robert Musil’s “Man Without Qualities” and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle.” I’ve been trending to these galactic structures lately — last summer I had my head broken open by Doris Lessing’s “Four-Gated City” and so now appear doomed to read the Martha Quest novels — backwards. I also recently noticed how many unfinished novels have been important to me: Musil’s, Kafka’s, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, Christina Stead’s “I’m Dying Laughing.” Reading around in Ellison’s “Three Days Before the Shooting . . . ”; I bet I’d like that thing in Salinger’s safe. —Jonathan Lethem, “By the Book,” NYTBR, 8/29/13

So what was I doing here? What was I going to do in the office at half past four in the morning? Write? Do today what I had not succeeded in doing for the last five years? –Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (Vol. 1)

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