Friday, 3 May 2013

reticence [jean-philippe toussaint]

Toussaint's novel is essentially a shaggy dog story. A man arrives in a seaside town with his son and settles into a rhythm of paranoia and fantasy. His thoughts are conveyed with stream of consciousness, reminiscent of Bernhard and Bolano. A slim 130 pages, it should probably be read in one sitting, although I read it in four.  It’s one of those novels which relies on the implication of menace. The game is trying to figure out whether there’s any substance to the narrator’s musings or whether he’s just deranged.

Descendant of the Nouvel Romain, it has to be said that Reticence is ultimately underwhelming.  This is acutely apolitical writing.  An exercise in epistemology, it deals exclusively in the act of perception. (What little I’ve read of Nicholson Baker would be another point of reference). The word ‘political’ is one that has many variations to its understanding. In this context it perhaps means that it seeks to talk ‘of’ something. Toussaint’s novel approaches the stage before we can even talk ‘of’ anything. It addresses the acts of perception and interpretation humans engage in before they can get anywhere near the act of assertion. The world is a blizzard of data (even though this book was written in ’91). How can anything be asserted when we can’t even establish what the signifiers look/ smell/ sound like?

No comments: