How to tell you about Reader’s Block by David Markson? To say I liked it tells you nothing. The book is written in fragments and before I began reading it I worried that it was going to be hard to understand, that the fragments wouldn’t amount to anything. I need not have worried.
Most of the book consists of book, art and music trivia, things like:
The honor of having been the first documented alcoholic author evidently falls to Aeschylus.
There is a story here though. A writer whose name is Reader is trying to write a book. Sprinkled amidst the fragments of trivia are the thoughts of Reader trying to work out his story. Will the protagonist live at a house on the beach or at a house by a cemetery? Will the lone woman be walking along the beach or visiting a grave? Eventually it gets to be impossible to tell the difference between the protagonist and Reader and the book Reader is writing and the one I, as a reader, am reading.
The question about what the book is gets asked early on:
Reader and this notion of his.
Reader and his mind full of clutter.
What is a novel in any case?
About halfway through:
I have a narrative. But you will be put to it to find it.
And near the end:
Reader and this notion of his.
Or does the absence of narrative progression plus that cross-circuited schematism possibly render it even a poem of sorts?
Not to add avec exactly 333 interspersed unattributed quotations awaiting annotation?
My traditional narrative expectant self says a novel of fragments should not work, but it does. I have no idea how it works other than through slow and careful accumulation. Reader repeats himself or nearly repeats himself sometimes. And the quotes themselves, while not always having anything to do with anything, start to reveal a pattern of loneliness, death, suicide. It becomes clear that Reader has been and is ill, has not written a book in a long time, lives on slender means, is lonely and being crushed by the waves or buried under the accumulations of his life.
I have been thinking about why Markson would name his character Reader and call the book Reader’s Block. Reader is a writer after all suffering from writer’s block. But the book is Reader’s block, so what is blocking Reader? And what is he being blocked from? And what about the possibility of Reader also referring to the reader of the book? Is the reader also somehow being blocked? The reader is being blocked in a sense, blocked from reading a traditional narrative, blocked by fragments. Reader seems to be blocked by the same fragments as they flit through his head, blocked from thinking through a narrative and blocked from writing a regular narrative. I feel like there is more though. I’m sure I’ll be mulling on it for a while.
That’s something else that makes this book enjoyable. Even though it is simple in many ways, in others it is not. There is much to think about. This is my first Markson and I look forward to reading This is Not a Novel, a book written in the same vein as Reader’s Block, sometime when I am done mulling over this one. It may be awhile.