Friday, December 03, 2010

book review: The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell

"Can you cook? Can you fight? Can you lie? Can you do anything well? Have you acquired a sufficient stock of clothes from a mail-order seller that you can, if you want to flip through the catalogue to decide what to wear that day ? Do you know a peony from a petunia? What exactly does "Standard & Poor" mean to you? Can you hang ten? Do you dance?"

Life is full of questions and answers and each child goes through their why? period before learning that asking about things all the times causes both annoyance and frustration because the answers are usually far from satisfactory.

Imagine reading a book that from start to finish a series of questions. It might sound difficult reading, and in parts it is, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. One of the problems is the urge to mentally answer as many questions as you can and the other is to try, even though it's clear one isn't coming, to look out for a traditional narrative structure.

At the end you realise that of course life is a series of questions and a search for answers, for some sort of truth, and that those that ask with the sort of random determination of the voice in this book do so at risk of alienating themselves from friends caught in the questioning crossfire.

The questions ebb and flow and there is something almost symphonic about the way that certain themes recur through the reading. Questions about blue jays, poodles and haircuts crop up in different ways throughout the book.

There is also a sense of asking the reader to think about their perceptions of a novel. The question really is what is a novel? and although this comes hardbound at 164 pages looking like a novel is it one? Is this literature as art? Is this literature as a construction? The questions don't stop at page 164.

As an exercise reading something different this reminds you that the narrative forms you take for granted are there to be challenged and in a way this succeeds where Tom McCarthy's C failed to be an anti-novel. It might not be comfortable but it will make you laugh in places but more than anything it will make you think and that has to be a good thing.


winstonsdad said...

any book that makes you think and question is always a good one simon ,all the best stu

I'm Simon Quicke and I have said...

Thanks for the comment stu you are so right thinking is a good thing!