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Harry Mathews
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Harry MATHEWS
Nationality: USA
Born: 14 February 1930
Awards: NEA grant in fiction writing, 1982
National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
fiction writing award, 1991

  • Attended Princeton, graduated from Harvard (in music)
  • Only American member of the Oulipo
  • Tlooth and The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium translated into French by Georges Perec

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Harry Mathews:

  • "(W)ords in Mathews do not stand outside what happens but are helplessly, sometimes brutally, implicated in it. The deformations and transformations of language, from random mishearings and connotative near misses to systematic distortions (...) are often the main events in Mathews's novels and stories. " - Geoffrey O'Brien, The New York Review of Books (5/12/2002)

  • "For Harry Mathews, as for many artists, accident is intrinsic to the particulars of our lives." - Lawrence Norfolk , Times Literary Supplement (6/12/2002)

  • "Translation figures again and again in Mathews's work because it fuses the business of reading and writing, and foregrounds the reader's part in the creation of whatever experience a novel makes possible. Indeed, for Mathews, creation, translation and collaboration are more or less interchangeable terms." - Mark Ford, London Review of Books (20/3/2003)

  • "I find much of his work impenetrable. Not that the man doesn't write clear and lively sentences. In fact, his books often take the form of pulpy quest-adventure tales or social comedies. (...) No, Mathews's difficulty lies in how his stories and novels take shape." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post (23/3/2003)

  • "Personally, I canít think of an American writer since Nabokov whose commitment to the principles of aesthetic bliss and autonomous, self-delighting creation makes the dreary counting-house particulars of sales figures and such more distasteful and beside the point. But then Iím just wild about Harry, and have been since the 70ís" - Gerald Howard, The New York Observer (16/5/2005)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Playful, clever, clear writing
  • Varied, experimental approaches
  • Humour always a significant presence

  • The absurd-realist mix is not to everyone's taste
  • Game-playing can annoy
  • Artificial demands and constraints of Oulipo in much of the writing

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the complete review's Opinion

     Harry Mathews' varied output offers a great deal to readers. Best known as a member of the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Oulipo) longtime expatriate Mathews produced significant work before actually joining the organization.
     The rules and conventions of literature -- established ones, new ones, arbitrary ones -- always seemed to interest him and mark many of his texts. From the early novels to the obsessive-playful variations on themes and language in Singular Pleasures and Selected Declarations of Dependence to his remembrances of close friend Georges Perec in The Orchard to the experiment of 20 Lines a Day Mathews has generally placed his writing within certain bounds and then explored and exploded those bounds from within. Mathews studied music, and this knowledge and interest (as well as his interest in mathematics -- see Mathews's Algorithm) is also reflected in his writing.
     Mathews' sense of humour makes most of the exercises quite enjoyable.
     Occasionally the artifice might seem too striking, but Mathews is generally able to show the value of the method of his madness. An unusual author, he has written such a wide variety of work, using so many different approaches, that there is likely to be something (and potentially a great deal) that will appeal to any given reader.

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Harry Mathews: Works by Harry Mathews online: OuLiPo: Harry Mathews' Books at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:

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