21 April 2008

So much more than a diary

Over the weekend I started J.M. Coetzee's latest novel DIARY OF A BAD YEAR. I'm not a Coetzee scholar; the only other book I've read of his is FOE, and I don't remember a whole lot about it. But I was drawn to this book because of what I had heard about its format. There are three narratives which comprise the novel and they are stacked one on top of another on the page.

The protagonist, Señor C, an older South African writer who now lives in Australia (like Coetzee), is writing a series of short essays or opinion pieces -- that's the first layer. Under that, Señor C relates the story of his relationship with Anya, a beautiful young woman he meets in the laundry room of his apartment building and convinces to type up his essays. And, beginning a little way into the book, Anya herself recounts her impressions of Señor C as well as her relationship with Alan, the man she lives with on the top floor of the building.

Once I finish the book I'm sure I'll have more to say on the novelty of that format and how Coetzee makes it work, but here are some other books with surprising formats that I would like to read:
  • David Foster Wallace, INFINITE JEST -- I have heard that this book began the trend of footnotes in fiction. It's a trend I am in favor of, and I look forward to climbing that mountain sometime. I picked up the 10th anniversary edition (for $10!) at Auntie's Bookstore and it looms large over my shelf. The last person I saw reading it called it "the ultimate novel."
  • Mark Z. Danielewski, ONLY REVOLUTIONS -- Danielewski's first novel HOUSE OF LEAVES used footnotes and played with fonts, but his National Book Award-nominated follow-up presents two different narratives -- two characters on a road trip -- whose stories overlap and collide. Each narrative starts on a different side of the book, so it would appear to have two front covers, or two points of entry. Carol Shields' novel HAPPENSTANCE also does this in its tale of a troubled marriage; each spouse gets a narrative.
  • Julio Cortázar, HOPSCOTCH (Spanish title: RAYUELA) -- How's this for procrastination? I own this book in Spanish and English, but have made little headway in either. Cortázar's 1963 novel can be read in two ways, in the conventional order or in an intricate sequence which scrambles 154 out of the 155 chapters. Also, the author supposedly said one can read the first 56 chapters and skip the rest (which, according to Conversational Reading, have the feel of footnotes). Hey Danielle, have you read this? Got any pointers?
Coming up this week: Dot-com drudgery, the changing of the seasons and a Wormbook field trip to a great New York bookstore.

1 comment:

Liz said...

I would happily mail you my copy of "Only Revolutions." I read probably 100 pages of that book (8 at a time, from each end) and I didn't get anything out of it.