Monday, December 7, 2009

The Witness, by Juan José Saer

The new issue of The Quarterly Conversation is starting to go up, containing my review of the Argentinean writer Juan José Saer's novel The Witness. The Witness, or El entenado, was voted the twelfth best Spanish-language novel of the past 25 years by the Colombian magazine Semana, and Saer is generally considered the most significant post-Boom Argentinean novelist. But don't let that impress you—read the review! Here's a short excerpt:
The Witness is too long to be a novella and not quite long enough to be an average novel—it wouldn’t fit in any category anyway, and length is among the least helpful ways of trying to get an analytic foothold on it. The book exists in a state of permanent estrangement; it zigs subtly away from the whole array of zags that novelists have added to their arsenal over the past century and a half or more. It is allegorical, but not enough to be an allegory; it’s metafictional, but it never lets you know that it knows how reflexive it’s become. It pricks you into smartly guessing that it is told by an unreliable narrator, but then you realize that he is not unreliable enough to disbelieve him. It is history looked at from the wrong end of a telescope, but the telescope is cloudy on both ends. It is hallucinatory, but everything is pretty much as it seems. It is constantly deconstructing all the things that need deconstruction—the self, history, morality, sexuality, civilization—but nothing falls apart enough. It is the dream of someone who never dreams.
Also, check out some of the other content: Matthew Cheney (whose work at The Mumpsimus I very much enjoy) has what promises to be a very rich essay on J. M. Coetzee's now-completed autobiographical trilogy; Scott Esposito reviews a work by Robert Walser, who sounds as if he'd appeal to many readers of this blog; and Paul Doyle reviews of Jorge Volpi's Season of Ash, a novel which I've really been wanting to read.

Edit (12/8): I got a nice email to say that Blographia is featured on this list of "50 Excellent, Scholarly Literary Criticism Blogs." On it, there are the usual (at least to me) suspects, but there are also a number of blogs unknown to me, which I'll have to go check out once my final papers are all in.

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