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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Museum of Eterna's Novel
(The First Good Novel)

Macedonio Fernández

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To purchase The Museum of Eterna's Novel (The First Good Novel)

Title: The Museum of Eterna's Novel
Author: Macedonio Fernández
Genre: Novel
Written: (1967) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 255 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Museum of Eterna's Novel - US
Museo de la novela de la eterna - US
The Museum of Eterna's Novel - UK
The Museum of Eterna's Novel - Canada
Musée du roman de l'éternelle - France
  • Spanish title: Museo de la novela de la eterna
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Margaret Schwartz
  • With a Preface by Adam Thirlwell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertainingly but exhaustingly playful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2010 Matthew Ladd
The LA Times . 16/5/2010 Jim Ruland
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/5/2010 Alison McCulloch

  From the Reviews:
  • "The episodes that follow are by turns poignant, absurd, philosophical, and banal, as Macedonio's characters move through the rooms of their well-apportioned prison -- eating, drinking, flirting, gossiping, and all the while mulling over their fictional natures and discussing what fate awaits them at the novel's inevitable end. Macedonio gives the screw another turn with the entrance of a final character -- the Reader -- who craves something like the same fate" - Matthew Ladd, Bookforum

  • "Fernández's metaphysical manifesto is less conventional than O'Brien's, and a good deal more meta-fictional, as can be expected in a work where the author appears on equal footing with his characters. (...) One gets the sense that Fernández would be disappointed in the "progress" of the contemporary novel. Ours is a culture that values orderly stories, but "skip around" readers will enjoy meandering about Fernández's cabinet of wonders." - Jim Ruland, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Macedonio builds a multi dimensional labyrinth in which everything is thrown into disarray: time and space, the metaphysical status of characters (one resigns from the novel, others are rejected and so are already absent) and even the reader" - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Macedonio Fernández apparently began working on The Museum of Eterna's Novel around 1925, and kept on revising it until his death; it was first published posthumously. Regardless, it is and would have remained intentionally fragmentary, a pieced-together game in which some of the pieces might have been replaced, rearranged, or changed but the whole still remained much the same. The work it most closely resembles is the similarly playful and digressive Tristram Shandy.
       The Museum of Eterna's Novel is divided into two not quite distinct parts. The first is a series of prologue-variations, in which the project and characters are introduced and discussed, from all possible perspectives. The second is the novel proper -- more or less. Typically, the dividing line is an otherwise blank page titled in bold letters: WERE THOSE PROLOGUES ? AND IS THIS THE NOVEL ? and then, in italics:

This page is for the reader to linger, in his well-deserved and serious indecision, before reading on.
       The author's presence (and whatever he is trying to do at any given point) figures in much of the text(s) -- and the reader is very much taken into account throughout, too. In fact, Fernández isn't satisfied with merely addressing the reader, but rather draws him -- several of them, actually -- into the text itself. Yes, it's that kind of book.
       Fernández's prologue variations -- over fifty of them -- are a fascinating lot. They include a 'Guide to the prologues (warning prologue)' as well as one in which he admits (way too late) that he has to take care in not getting carried away by all his prologuing, as the prologues threaten to become an end in and of themselves:
I must keep prologuing while avoiding the abuse of prologuing the prologues, and while I'm at that I have to make them prologues of something, that is they must be followed by something (a novel); meanwhile I can't permit my novel the caprice of prologuing itself (which is the equivalent of making biographical allusions in histories or doctrinaire declarations in the text of a novel in progress); meanwhile I must assure you, as I do now, that I am well on the road to auto-prologuery, which should definitely dampen the prologues' hopes (they complained once) for auto-existence (auto-existence is the ultimate response to the mystery of the world, which involves eternity), meaning they would not have to subordinate their existence to whatever follows
       The prologues serve as a testing ground for characters: in 'A character, before first appearance' one asks:
     "I want to know what kind of people I've ended up with here."
       Another prologue is devoted to two rejected characters, another -- 'The man who feigned to live' -- is entirely in the form of a footnote.
       Fernández promises (as if it needed saying ...):
     All the events and characters in this novel are pleasantly impossible, they are fantastic with respect to reality.
       He also promises (and warns) from early on:
     An irritating read, this book will annoy readers like no other, with its false promises and inconclusive and incompatible methodology; nevertheless it's a novel that will not cause reader evasion, since it will produce an interest in the soul of the reader that will leave him allied to its destiny -- it's a novel that needs a lot of friends.
       Fernández repeatedly admits to be drawn to the issue of how to engage the reader -- and chooses presentation and form over content in doing so: "I am interested in method", he admits, much more than story, and so, for example:
     My tactic as a novelist is: the Reader only catches glimpses of the characters, but what he comes to know of them he knows so well that he is pricked by readerly irritation. He's left insatiable by his incomplete knowledge or "half-knowledge", yet loves their delicacy.
       Midway through the book the prologuing is more or less done, but Fernández only partially changes tack. Certainly, the narrative does not become a conventional novel. The characters that have previously been mentioned and introduced are now the central figures, but this is still about fiction-creating. There's a locale -- the estancia "La Novela" -- but in getting their bearings and finding their roles the characters are still very much part of a creative process -- in which they, as well as the author (and the reader(s)) play a role. Yes: The Museum of Eterna's Novel continues to tie itself in self-reflexive knots.
       Characters stray through the narrative on their own errands -- "I was looking for the part of the novel where I could have life of my own", one excuses himself -- and cite the author's own words (which pleases him: "they're making me famous"). Figures such as 'Author' and 'Reader' engage in dialogue and commentary. And it's not just a single reader: more are waiting in the wings -- as, for example, the "new reader" who lets it be known:
I'm anxiously awaiting my turn to descend into the pages of the novel. Am I not there yet ?
       It's all good if slightly overwhelming fun -- the kind of work that has, perhaps been over-written and -thought over the decades Fernández devoted to it. As is noted early on in the book:
     This novel is enamored of itself and it is the sort of novel where mishaps and adventures happen, artistic indecisions, whether to get lost in art, to be silent, to be ignorant; even as it relates events it is swept away by others; it contains accidents and is the victim of accidents.
       Fernández tries to have (and do) it every which way; it is fascinating -- especially in its details (or rather: its tangents) -- but it also proves utterly exhausting.
       Among the many brilliant observations on offer is the admission:
     Ever since I've been an author I've looked on in envy at the audience there is for auto accidents. I sometimes dream that certain passages in the novel had such a throng of readers that they obstructed the progression of the plot, running the risk that difficulties and catastrophes of the interior of the novel would appear in the forward, among the mangled bodies.
       Fernández may be too enamored of such auto-accident passages: certainly there's a great deal here that stops one in one's tracks -- yet like gawking at a car accident, what can be taken from it is often limited, the disruption to the normal flow of life (or, in this case, of the text) ultimately memorable only as disruption and little else.
       Fernández also obsesses about his readers, suggesting the different forms of reading possible here -- and of readers, from the 'window-shopping'-one to 'the reader who skips around'. He even draws some hypothetical readers into the text itself, turning them into characters. And when he writes: "I'm confident I won't have a single orderly reader. An orderly reader could bring about my downfall", it's also because he has done his best to ensure that The Museum of Eterna's Novel can (or should) not be read in orderly fashion.
       The Museum of Eterna's Novel is certainly a fascinating book, and successful on its own, self-defined terms (including the promise of being an irritating read ...) -- but it also loses itself in it's super-reflexive self-obsession.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 February 2010

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The Museum of Eterna's Novel (The First Good Novel): Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine writer Macedonio Fernández lived 1874 to 1952.

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© 2010-2021 the complete review

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