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This Is Not a Novel by David Markson

This Is Not a Novel (2001)

by David Markson

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The only--ostensibly--fictional character in this novel is Writer. 'Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing,' the book begins, and scattered throughout it are Writer's thoughts on novels and writing, which eventually give way to personal information about Writer, information that the reader may already have gathered from the rest of the book.

And the rest of the book is a collection of baldly-stated facts, most of them about writers and particularly about their deaths, brief quotations, and mere phrases. None of these is random nor are they irrelevant to each other and to Writer's situation--in fact, the book is a marvel of organisation--despite appearances:

'Virtually every inadequacy in recent French literature is due to absinthe, Daudet said in the late 1800's.

Annals 165. Where Tacitus actually does, does, call a spade "an implement for digging earth and cutting turf".

Paul Klee died of cardiac arrest after years of enduring scleroderma.

Sarah Orne Jewett died of a cerebral hemmorhage.

Thomas of Celano.

I have wasted all my youth chained to this tomb.
Michelangelo protested to Julius II.

Why hasn't Writer ever known? What is the black liquid that spills out of the dead Emma Bovary's mouth?'

That's most of the page I chanced to open the book to and ought to give a perfect idea of what the writing is like. You could, I suppose, use it as a bedside book of trivia, you Philistine you, but in doing so you'd be losing the novel itself: There is a story here, though it's told in an untraditional way. And it's left me more keen than ever to read all that Markson wrote. ( )
  bluepiano | Dec 30, 2016 |
I did read this mish-mosh of historical/literary details & interspersed commentary fairly quickly, in line with the description of it being a page-turner. However the book's inclination towards the random & obscure, beyond a focus on causes of death, is puzzling. ( )
  JamesPaul977 | May 26, 2013 |
What this is: a list of short (1-3 line) anecdotes about artists. How they died, where they died, ways they insulted people, with occasional bits from Writer, who seems preoccupied with getting older, as well as the failure of his last book. Despite being devoid of plot and characters, there's quite a nice story here - mostly sad, but kind of funny. It's a quick read, and a good one. ( )
  kszym | Apr 3, 2013 |
Following the title, I wasn't expecting this to be a novel, but I did hope for some sort of philosophical statement about art & mortality. I found none. Why on earth was this even published? It's just a grocery list of anecdotes. Dull & uninspired. ( )
  aliceunderskies | Apr 1, 2013 |
Lines, phrases, couplets, words. Evidence again that literature is less about the form than the effect. Markson’s presentation is plotless, pithy. No characters, only names. No action, but the accumulating bits suggest a kind of onward momentum. Imprecisely does he convey his intent, the text evocative but evasive. Towards the end the reader is given a few hints of what the writer is getting at, but a sense of meaning is not at all necessary.
  HectorSwell | Aug 28, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
True to its title, the book doesn't, at first glance, appear to be a novel at all. As in his 1996 book "Reader's Block," Markson assembles a series of notebook-like entries that relate historical facts, philosophical observations and nasty gossip about the lives of great writers and artists throughout history. A typical item: "Trollope, as remembered by a schoolmate at Harrow: Without exception the most slovenly and dirty boy I have ever met."
added by davidcla | editSalon, Maria Russo (Apr 19, 2001)
Writer mopes around, feeling ''weary unto death of making up stories'' and ''equally tired of inventing characters.'' In an apparent bid to make his readers just as miserable, he wishes to ''contrive'' a ''novel'' without either.
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