28 September 2010

David Markson: Reader's Block (1996)

David Markson's Reader's Block is a short experimental novel that initially appears to be a mere series of observations - many in two- or three-sentence paragraphs - on curiosities in many literary, but also musical, philosophical, artistic, etc, fields. But from the beginning it is also evident that there are common threads, that there is a protagonist called Reader, and that he or she is striving to write a (certainly strongly autobiographical) novel involving Protagonist, who has accumulated a wealth of knowledge by reading. Snatches of information, or suggestions of information, can be found: Protagonist is old and has cancer, and lives by the sea in a part of a house looking out onto a cemetery, although Reader (as unrealized writer) has not decided if Protagonist has been married, or has had children, etc. Obsessions on the part of Reader (and/or Protagonist) are many, and are shown through the brief anecdotes: death (particularly through suicide), insanity, antisemitism, lifelong virginity or general lack of sexual activity, publication difficulties, etc.

The book is also humorous, although part of this side of it may be lost on many readers: the literary allusions presuppose perhaps a little more than average understanding of fiction and the lives of writers of fiction. But the words at the end, - 'Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An Assemblage' - may also be taken by many readers to summarize the book. And the final word - 'Wastebasket' - may very unkindly be seen as an appropriate way to end a book that is saying much more than it might initially appear to be saying: there is tragedy in the inability to develop imaginatively the product of a lifetime of reading.

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