the narrator is hired to ghost-write the autobiography of Tobold the Hamburger King. a kind of steve ballmer larry ellison dick cheney rupert murdoch lex luthor mashup. full of spot-on recognitions. and while it doesn’t do so much to complicate the archetype and plot of the amoral and ruthless capitalist (of course born in poverty, self-made, lonely-at-the-top), it does provide a sharp insight into the artist class’s response: servility, impotence, hypocrisy and envy.
the last third disappoints in that it tries to give Tobold, its embodiment of the Free Market, a tortured conscience. the move feels false and sentimental. and makes the book drag.
but first two thirds are a nice rip. here’s a page:
I ended up thinking that brutality, calculation, profit-oriented thinking and contempt for all things spiritual (all qualities that are required to be worthy of being called an investor) were not only respected by everyone, but promoted and praised. People saw them as assets, as stenghts, as indispensable guarantors of success, so much so that it had become impossible to scoff at them.
Times are vulgar, I told myself in the prudish and bombastic tone of those who believe themselves to be exempt from the criticisms they throw at others.
The ancient civility of Old Europe is dead, I told myself. This argument provided me infinite consolation since by itself it justified all of my powerlessness.
I told myself with a sickening complacency that if tact were to be considered a weakness from then on, if erudition was thought of as pretension, self-effacement as a disorder, and manners as a hindrance to fun, then it made perfect sense that I found myself in this fucked-up situation. It was perfectly normal that I didn’t have a place in this world. It was inevitable that I would always be out of touch, isolated, unable to join the crowd, solitary. So it is with artists.
Vulgarity is ruining the world, it’s making a mess of things, I told myself. I was never short on indignation. And this charge that I was leveling against the spirit of the times somehow compensated for the sum of my daily spineless concessions (130-1).
refashioning the detective narrative into something more art-y evidently is such a tempting strategy perhaps it’s a trap. note the murder puzzles of echenoz’s house-mate at les editions de minuit, robbe-grillet. or robert coover’s recent deconstruction of noir or pynchon’s neon vices or lethem’s genre mashups or haruki murakami’s career-long channeling of chandler… even bolaño wants to be a homicide cop in his next life… that ongoing and probably easily extended list suggests there’s not only something fashionable about this trope-slumming but that the mystery narrative is somehow deeply fundamental to the novel form. its searcher protagonists and elusive, ineffable obscure objects of desire might arguably be the nucleobases of the novel’s DNA.
reading three echenoz in a row — BIG BLONDES, I AM GONE, and CHEROKEE — made that thought pop again to mind as echenoz displays an intimate and scientific knowledge of the genre’s workings. he also does something that feels unique with it, stripping almost everything out — certainly as much interiority as he can — and leaving only plot. not that these are zippy momentum-gathering page turners — rather they’re drôle collages of event where a thousand peculiar items are glued together with comedic and/or convenient coincidence. cubist mysteries of fractured planes, they’re fun reads with, when the pieces come together at the end, an almost guaranteed mild let-down (maybe even a purposeful, subversive one). oddly addictive.
i think this (slightly protesting) comment on plot in this recent interview on michael silverblatt’s bookworm reveals a bit about her method: “…otherwise it all goes into a kind of a slurry in my imagination… I just try to recreate the atmosphere and then kind of weave a plot into it. And I do like the element of plot very much. It doesn’t have to be an extremely complex plot worthy of a mystery story, but the element of suspense in fiction, the necessity of continuing to follow a narrative until you find out what happens to the characters whom you’ve come to care about. I just don’t see how any fiction writer could dispense with that, could want to. It’s what’s so entrancing about the experience of reading fiction for me, or one of the main things that’s makes it so necessary for me.” (15:10)
as a bonus, at the end of the interview she lists her favorite under-appreciated novels: