It had a lot in common with Gospodinov’s Natural Novel, which i read a couple of years ago. Yeah, there’s a debt to Kafka, which i notice crops up in a lot of the reviews that i’ve read this morning, but it’s also somewhat Oulipian,1 as if that last entry with the explicit mention of Raymond Queneau is not enough, after a several games strewn through the book in homage to Perec. It reminded me more of my diaries when i was tanked up full of antidepressants by my family doctor fifteen years ago, when i shouldn’t have been, and my mind was largely wiped for a number of months. It was easy to recognize as black humor, but it spooked me more than the average reader.
Enjoyed it, but felt mildly unsatisfied. From these two review, from the London Review of Books and Bookforum, Chinese Letter turns out to be a first novel. With twenty more that Basara has written, i’m definitely curious as to when more of his work turns up in translation, especially the one that Daniel Soar described:
The least unknown of Basara’s novels is Fama o biciklistima (1988) – speculatively, ‘The Fuss about Cyclists’ – and I looked up a copy to find out what the fuss was about. It turns out that I understand less Serbian than I thought I did, but the book appears to be a collection of apocryphal manuscripts gathered from imaginary libraries by fictional scholars; it includes Freud’s ‘Case of Ernest M.’ (whose peculiar complex leads inevitably to his involvement with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and possibly in his assassination) and Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’s Final Case’ (which depends on the discovery that a criminal has been following a route determined by superimposing the outline of a penny farthing bicycle on a map of London). There are diagrams and equations, a note about the construction of the Hospital of Babylon the Great, and a concluding list of members of a ‘secret society of bicyclists’ which includes – those I’ve heard of – Mircea Eliade, Bohumil Hrabal, Eugène Ionesco, Eddy Merckx, Slobodan Milosevic´, Gavrilo Princip, Jozef Skvorecki, Tsvetan Todorov and, perplexingly, Alexis Carrington from Dynasty. These names speak to those in the know, with a complicated take on the obsession that sees Rosicrucianism or freemasonry or the Illuminati everywhere, capturing both the talismanic appeal of the secret list and its satisfactory arbitrariness.
This sounds frustratingly obscure… and i want it now.
However, it looks like i’m obligated to read some Beckett now, since every review referenced him.
- It would be interested to know how much of this would be necessarily lost in translation. [↩]