Reading The Last Novel is like taking small, deliciously savoured, sips from the most potent cocktail you can think of. The narrator or Novelist, as he calls himself, calls it ‘Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage’ (p8) but that doesn’t feel entirely true. Made up of remembered facts, anecdotes, quotations and the occasional fragment of the Novelist’s experience, the novel is indeed collage-like but like many collages, it is one in which wider pictures emerge from precisely placed and chosen samples: the history of human tolerance, or the lack of it; the story of the generally impoverished or misunderstood artist; a feeling of isolation in the midst of voices long dead, be they friends or works of art.
There were plenty of times when the knowledge revealed by the text reminded me of my own ignorance, but I didn’t feel preached to or looked down upon, it was more like I was being offered an avenue for future exploration. To give you a flavour, here are a few of my favourite sips:
‘It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing. Said Gertrude Stein.’ (p7)
‘The imagination will not perform until it has been flooded by a vast torrent of reading. Announced Petronius.’ (p26)
‘I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems; it’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife. Quoth Philip Larkin.’ (p49)
‘Thinking with someone else’s brain. Schopenhauer called reading.’ (p67)
‘Reality is under no obligation to be interesting. Said Borges.’ (p139)
‘The greatest kindness we can show some of the authors of our youth is not to reread them. Said François Mauriac.’ (p160)
‘I never saw an ugly thing in my life. Said Constable.’ (p165)
I’ll find new favourites in another reading and I’m sure you would find your own. The Last Novel is a book you want to keep on dipping back into. If you feel the need to read something that refreshes the mental palette, then this is the novel for you.
Next week I’ll be reading Neverhome by Laird Hunt.