by Raymond Federman
281pages, Fiction Collective 2 (publisher)
Review by Marc Nash
Finding some metafiction literature is about as easy as getting your hands on a snuff movie. Especially in the UK. So I went to Amazon marketplace to import Federman's book to feed my intermittent habit. Federman was born in France and emigrated to the US shortly after WW2, thereby being present in the two hotbeds of metafiction.
This book throws the gauntlet down to the reader about the nature of fiction. Ostensibly a man is narrating his life to the listener within the novel and jointly as a direct address to the reader himself. The narrative constantly digresses, returns to dropped threads, winds around itself like a dog circling around its bed searching for the ideal lie of the land. The narrator is himself a writer and openly admits the story he is relating is constantly being invented, that it is entirely a fiction. His life is a fiction, yet it is not the book he has written and returned to France in order to try and land a publishing deal.
"You see literature is always a form of playgarism, it must be a game or life would be deadly". Hmm, at times this book felt deadly and the games involving the reader run out of any steam after their initial introduction. I spotted straight away that the fictional author Namredef is the author's real name spelled backwards, c'mon man, that's like playing the kiddie version of "Scrabble" to me. For something so non-linear, it is remarkably one-paced and one-toned throughout. There are no emotional shifts of gear in its entirety. The voice is actually rather grating, full of himself, feeling inviolable since he can just rewrite his own (fictional) history at will and boast of doing so. There are some touching descriptions, some emotional connection, but his insufferable smarm and infantile petulance always manages to pull the rug from under any such sympathies we might feel. Quite an achievement, since the Holocaust is one of the subjects broached.
However, the games aside, there were two important observations made in the book. "We know for a fact that artistic creation can only be done in a state of excitement, you have to have an erection to be able to screw," a valuable insight, I feel. And right at the end, when castigating a minor editor within the publishing house who has been charged with the task of letting him down gently about the rejection of his manuscript, the character launches into a rant that rang true, but self-indulgent at the same time. "You see, we find your novel too postmodern, we believe that our readers will not be able to follow your postmodern detours and circumvolutions... it's too complicated, too cerebral for our readers, as such has no commercial value". Well I understood every bleeding word and it wasn't too cerebral for me. I could follow each tortuous divagation without getting lost. It was however not much fun and not really rewarding enough a journey. And anyway, I've just told you the two best bits, so I've saved you the effort. Spoiler? I think the meat of the book had long ere turned.