Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

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Comp Lit City

Jacques Jouet, Mountain R (trans Brian Evenson)
Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan

Two novels covering similar territory, poco satire with atavistic paternalism as theme. One is excellent. The other is a best-seller, selected as among last year's best by all the major US newspaper book reviews.

So, the latter first. Absurdistan is, in a word, Pomoblomov. Set largely in a bizarro Azerbaijan, it is not without its moments, and takes it up a notch in its fourth fifth (when it takes its Russian lit precursors a little more seriously, but it uses these as decoration rather than foundation -- given the political slant, perhaps the mid19c referent should be Who is to be Done?), but ultimately can't make up its mind, taking easy outs (but is this not like Oblomov? maybe, but not like Goncharov). Somewhat redeemed by a Bellovian aspect of the protagonist, and by its breadth of literary allusion (not just 19c, e.g. José Manuel Prieto), but still too lite for my tastes: what Graham Greene would call an entertainment.

Mountain R accomplishes more with less -- Olympian constrained by Oulipoan Jouet, in three parts (in 1:3:2 ratio), "The Speech" (assembly required), "The Construction Site" (a father-daughter colloquy), and "The Trial (Short Excerpt)" (novelist in the dock). Abstracted, shorn of topical referents and of literary allusion, it involves the reader in filling in the blanks. It is in turn part of a cycle, "La Republique roman", but the only part to be Englished (and even so not mentioned by the translator); Warren Motte provides a survey of what we're missing, while drunkenboat provides a sampling.


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