Saturday, November 01, 2008

In Brief: Two by Josipovici

Brief notes on Gabriel Josipovici's mid-90s novels, Now and Moo Pak:

Now is entirely in dialogue; not halting, half-sentences a la Gaddis, but discrete moments. Family situations, battles. As in any family, there are conversations about this or that character's future, conversations dwelling on the past, characters expressing anxiety about their own futures, and so on. A very quick read, perhaps too quick. This is one of those books where the title serves as an organizing principle, forcing the reader--or perhaps allowing the reader--to make sense of the narrative. It seems somehow appropriate that I read a novel called Now the day before Mirah was born.

I enjoyed Moo Pak more, after these initial readings at least. Constructed like a Bernhard novel--a single, book-length paragraph, with a narrator recounting the many remarks made by another, the other's concerns being the central focus of the book. Like a Bernhard novel, but lighter, not so relentless, not quite so despairing, though not without despair, or melancholy. Here, the remarks are made over the course of many walks the two characters share and they are stitched together to almost seem like one continuous monologue, with brief interruptions indicating shifting setting, some making it clear that multiple conversations are involved.

The speaker, Jack Toledano, the voice we hear in this would-be monologue, is very similar in some respects, though by no means identical, to Josipovici himself--certain biographical details and literary concerns--so that it often feels like Josipovici speaking to us, as if we were his walking companions. Kafka, Pascal, Wittgenstein, the English, life as an exile, Sterne, Shakespeare, and numerous other topics and literary figures are discussed, but most of all Jonathan Swift, who is in a sense the novel's presiding spirit. The title refers to Moor Park, where Swift lived and worked for many years; Toledano is reportedly working on a mammoth, 800-page history of Moor Park (one of several details, it seems to me, clearly differentiating him from Josipovici; I have a hard time imagining Josipovici writing either a history or an 800-page book). On the book cover, Frank Kermode blurbs the novel as "wisdom literature". I think the phrase is apt.


litlove said...

I enjoyed 'Now' very much, and have Moo Pak still to read. So I'm delighted you found it even more to your taste. As ever, thank you for the insightful remarks.

Richard said...

Hi litlove, thanks for the comment. I'd somehow missed your post about Now (which is here, for anyone else who's interested), but just read it (now!). Thanks for it, too.

Also, I note that I used the word "exile" above. Not quite right, I think. More like "transplant", one who doesn't feel he quite belongs either where he was born (which is virtually gone anyway) or where he lives, etc. Exile implies someone who "belongs" somewhere he can't be, for whatever reason.