Yesterday evening, Mister Interpolations passed a kidney stone in the shape of a book. Literally. It plopped in the strainer.
Blinking with relief, Mister Interpolations fished it out and marveled at just how wonderful he felt.
He sighed: “It’s passed, it’s over.”
Then his mind began to work. How could a book be this painful? It doesn’t make sense.
To calm his wonder, Mister Interpolations opened the kidney stone and read it edge to edge in one sitting.
He concluded: “It hurts for a very good reason.”
Tired, he slept and dreamed of Gonçalo Tavares, a neighbor, leaping over fences that were obstacles one moment, ice statues the next, then fragments of pencils and finally shards of volcanic stone.
It was a fitful night’s sleep, tossing.
. . .
This is what Mister Tavares thought: “I want to write a novel.” Instead he writes a book. It’s called The Neighborhood.
Then mister Tavares peoples it with literary types.
Mister Valery is one such neighbor. Mister Calvino is another and there are Misters Juarroz, Henri and Kraus, too.
They cut amusing figures, ambling here and there trying to do X when Y would suffice and likely result in Z. OK, maybe P.
. . .
One day when Mister Tavares was writing, he thought: “Writing is a spatial exercise.” And to prove his point, he wrote down these words: “He wrote down these words.”
Mister Tavares smiled because the words looked right, they made sense.
Then he wrote them this way: “Words these down wrote he” and because he was feeling impish, Mister Tavares wrote them this way, too: “Sdrow eseht nwod etorw eh.”
Yes, he thought, writing is a spatial exercise. Semantics, too.
His eyebrows tilted in and up like a shallow V. Mister Tavares blurted: “One string of letters is meaningful, the others aren’t, but if the others aren’t, then they’re examples of things that don’t make sense.”
He paused, with good reason, and then the good reason passed.
He continued: “But if they’re examples of things that don’t make sense, then that’s their sense, they make sense.”
Mister Tavares felt good about the results of his experiment, but confused.
. . .
Mister Tavares enjoys wandering around the city until he’s lost.
To find himself lost more quickly, he gulped the last of his coffee, then smoothed out a map before him on the table, planning his steps carefully for his daily perambulations, excited.
. . .
Mister Tavares fancies pencils and pens. He doesn’t write with them, however.
He’s heard of computers and has even recommended them to others. But he doesn’t trust them.
That’s because they come with keyboards. And keyboards are made for tapping. Which is why he doesn’t like typewriters, either. Or dancing.
So he writes with marbles instead. This doesn’t make sense. But it doesn’t prevent Mr. Tavares from shooting words at other words with a fastidiously closed pirate eye.
. . .
A loves B. B loves C. A doesn’t love C.
A is Mister Interpolations, B is Saramago, and C is Tavares. Love isn’t a transitive property. This is proof.
Now C loved B and B would have loved A if only B had known A, because A is handsome and loves B’s prose with a passion bordering on romance.
This shows nothing. Mister Interpolations mutters in his sleep: “Perhaps that’s the point.”
. . .
At last Mister Interpolations stirs, moans.
There’s no plot in The Neighborhood — no setting, no characterization, little or no sensory details, a few snappy metaphors, and only a few plucky observations.
Other than that, Mister Interpolations thinks The Neighborhood is a fine piece of prose fiction.
. . .
Mister Tavares’ neighborhood is pre-apocalyptic. That is, Mister Interpolations wants to visit destruction on it.
. . .
Postscript. I may not enjoy wandering Mister Tavares’ neighborhood but others do. Check out Trevor’s outstanding review at The Mookse and the Gripes. He plays the antidote to my venom.
Here is what I wonder about this book (which I have not read – although your pastiche of it is appealing) – I know Calvino well, or used to, and I own books by Kraus, Michaux, and Valéry that I have never read, which suggests I would at least like to know them. I did not remember Juarroz, but it turns out a couple of his poems are in W. S. Merwin’s Selected Translations, so I have read him, too.
Do you think any of this matters for the Tavares book? Does it help to know that there was a real Paul Valéry and he wrote little prose poemish sketches about M. Teste? Or would it be more or less the same if Tavares had given his characters plain old non-allusive names?
My patische is better than the book. An anti-compliment, that. You know, I do think a reader’s appreciation of The Neighborhood would be deepened by understanding the authors and works that waft through Tavares’ text. I only have a passing familiarity with Calvino, having read two of his novels, which are very good and hence very different from Tavares. His representation of Calvino portrays a Calvino I scarcely recognize. As for the rest, I’ve never read them and know next to nothing about them.
To Valery’s M. Teste we can add Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, and Michaux’s Mr. Plume. Makes you think why he didn’t created a Mr. (Zbigniew) Herbert, creator of Mr. Cogito?
I don’t know, the whole book seems too in-jokey for my taste.
Orthofer adds Brecht’s Mr. Keuner to the list, even though the English version of The Neighborhood for some reason does not include the Brecht book.