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Aseroë (1992)

by François Dominique

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was pleased to have been gifted an ARC, and from the publisher description fully anticipated an enjoyable novel -- even (perhap especially) if it ended up being something other than expected. Yet like Moss before it (another ARC gifted by the same publisher), I must admit I've retained almost nothing of plot, characters, or themes. Even after reviewing my notes, I am left without a clear impression of Aseroë.

As with Moss, the experience prompted me to reflect on my expectations and why the experience I had feels to be about my reading more than about the text that I read. This isn't always the case. Though I reliably screen out works I won't enjoy, and so not read them, I do recognise when a book fails to measure up once I've read it.

This doesn't feel like that kind of situation. Reviewing my notes and revisiting quotes I marked when reading, I find many examples of musings on word and image, memory and perception, joined to imaginative scenes illustrating these abstractions. Separately, like the publisher description before, I find them intriguing and suggestive. Somehow they never cohered.

I'll return this to my shelf and plan to revisit. ( )
  elenchus | Mar 1, 2021 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
One of those indescribable books that will be a delight to the right people, into whose hands I sincerely hope it falls, and irritating nonsense to everyone else. There’s not a plot here so much as a series of puzzling, semi-surreal episodes that may or may not be happening to a narrator who may or may not be the author (though he certainly is AN author). Am I not making it sound like much fun? I did like it. Its poetry never overwhelms the ease of its expression. The writing is often quite beautiful, meditating on everything from the fungus so touted by the jacket copy—which, disappointingly, turns out to play only a background role—to the Othering of strangers to the longing for a LIBER MUTUS, “that ‘silent book’ whose mysterious and vacant meaning was the only grail that ever seemed worthy of ... pursuit” (158). ASEROË flirts with serious subjects like the Holocaust, but ultimately is more of an intellectual pleasure than an emotional one. ( )
1 vote Xiguli | Oct 8, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A brief post-modernist meditation on the ephemeral nature of existence and the multifarious interpretations of meaning. Words, books, women, and sensations as totems, full of indeterminable meanings. Aseroë begins with a fascinating journey through mycology, with a uniquely French take on the highly descriptive names given to certain mushrooms, then wanders off to other realms, too many to mention. At times a completely mesmerizing read, but perhaps too disjointed to be considered completely successful as a cohesive novel.

For literary comparison, Pascal Quignard's works come to mind. ( )
1 vote vaniamk13 | Sep 30, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“Why hurl yourself into the abyss? There will be ample occasion for that when it comes to be your turn.”
— Aseroë, François Dominique

Aseroë is a meandering story about binaries, or rather, about false and/or disintegrating binaries:

plant/animal
life/afterlife
remembering/forgetting
me/you

This theme is one that’s deeply resonant with me, as a nonbinary reader. I rarely see this concept explored so directly in literature, let alone in such a wholehearted, joyful way. I’m hesitant to call this a queer novel — this theme is never explicitly tied to gender or sexuality in the novel, and indeed the only sex described is presumably hetero — but I find nature and evolution meaningful lenses for understanding my own identity, and I enjoyed experiencing this vaguely trippy book from my queer perspective.

Aseroë took me slightly longer to read than expected because I kept finding myself compelled to pause and google images of various mushrooms. Indeed, the entire novel is full of references to science and the natural world, to art, to literature, and more many I knew, and many more I did not. This was not a problem; on the contrary, I felt like I was holding a treasure map, being invited to follow along. And following one step behind, always discovering, was a pleasure.
1 vote theodarling | Aug 31, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In the opening pages of Aseroë, author and self-inserted character Francois Dominique styles himself as a sort of mad mycologist, who studies his fungus as if they are sentient (and indeed maybe they are). This conceit frames the idea that mushrooms have some of the most startlingly descriptive names - the medusa head, and stinky sulfur, and indeed the Aseroë, or "disgusting juice" are things that are perfectly the words used to describe them. This inspires the character Dominique to go on a dream questto gain access to a level of existence where word, thing, and idea are one and the same.

The following chapters are crosses between vignettes, poems, and philosophical meanderings. Neither we nor the author are exactly sure if the events he experiences lead to his thoughts, or if his thoughts create the events. On the way we ponder the death of Arthur Rimbaud, the work of Giordano Bruno, and the myth of Orpheus. Dominique experiences unknown joy and terror without source as words and things lose their separation and gain their meaning. The mysterious Aseroë comes up again and again, a vague foreign place of dreams reminiscent of Borges.

Dominique's writing is beautiful, and easy to read, though conceptually challenging. By the end, I fear I may have read it too fast. I am left with the impression that the character of the author drove himself mad, after rolling around in depression of his lofty goals. The fact that he had a sexual encounter with both of the women he met along the way left a sour taste in my mouth. I was not sure of the significance to the concept, beyond feeling outdated and self-indulgent (finding out the book was written in the late 80s makes a little more sense, but still raises an eyebrow). I may set it aside for a few years and come back for a slower read, when I am more in the mindset for its poetry.
1 vote Magus_Manders | Aug 29, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dominique, FrançoisAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Limoli, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sieburth, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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