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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

This is Not a Novel

David Markson

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To purchase This is Not a Novel

Title: This is Not a Novel
Author: David Markson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 190 pages
Availability: This is Not a Novel - US
This is Not a Novel - UK
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Arrêter d'écrire - France

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd, clever, surprisingly entertaining book

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe A 2/5/2001 Damon Smith
Harper's . August/2001 Guy Davenport
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/4/2001 Laura Miller
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Summer/2001 Paul Maliszewski
Salon A 19/4/2001 Maria Russo
The Washington Post A 8/4/2001 Michael Dirda

  Review Consensus:

  They are all sympathetic, slightly bemused, entertained.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Once again, Markson has created a wonderfully intricate artifact, a kind of literary Chinese box in which we're never sure if the author has written himself into the narrative and allowed us a peek at the inner sanctum of his creative misery, or simply fooled us into thinking he has. (...) This Is Not a Novel is the work of a long-neglected and long-suffering author finally at the apex of his powers." - Damon Smith, Boston Globe

  • "Markson's book is 190 pages of interesting words or sentences (.....) They create associations the way soap bubbles pack into cubes and hexagons. Every reader will find a different order hiding in this kaleidoscopic randomness." - Guy Davenport, Harper's Magazine

  • "Despite its atomized condition, the book does, as Writer hopes, seduce the reader into turning pages. Why it should succeed at that when most other books with the same anti-narrative agenda fail isn't hard to explain. This Is Not a Novel may not be a story, but it is something equally addictive: gossip, with a dash of puzzle." - Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review

  • "What remains is part commonplace book, part melancholic catalog of loss, part fugue, part epic poem of unnumbered cantos, part portrait of the artist, and, taken as a whole, a great read -- a read really like no other." - Paul Maliszewski, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Somehow, the momentum of the book is as forward-moving as any narrative. As you turn the pages, you realize that there is a story being told, the story of a character you come to care deeply about. When Writer reveals a devastating truth on the book's very last page, one that puts in context all the preceding preoccupations, your heart wrenches." - Maria Russo, Salon

  • "This Is Not a Novel memorializes the treasures and detritus of one man's singularly cultured mind. (...) If you don't know Writer's work at all, try This Is Not a Novel. There may be some doubt about exactly what kind of book it is, but not that it's altogether wonderful." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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:

       This is Not a Novel bears many similarities to Markson's previous work, Reader's Block (see our review). It is presented in the same epigrammatic style: short, separate sentences and brief episodes, largely (though not entirely) unconnected. In This is Not a Novel the figure behind the book is "Writer", whereas in Reader's Block it was "Reader" and "Protagonist", but the foci and preoccupations remain similar.
       There is much talk of death, as the various causes of the deaths of literally hundreds of prominent people are mentioned. Writer gets quite carried away with the subject -- much as Markson had in Reader's Block as well. In one of the longer sections of This is Not a Novel he writes:

       Writer incidentally doing his best here -- insofar as his memory allows -- not to repeat things he has included in his earlier work.
       Meaning in this instance the four hundred and fifty or more deaths that were mentioned in his last book also.
       There are other preoccupations as well: the number of people attending the funerals of a variety of figures, people who talk to themselves, people who were short, misspelt titles and words ("F.Scott Fitzgerald's spelling: Ullyses"), criticisms of of well-known works and people. There are gibes at Harold Bloom's speedreading claims. Mentions of people who didn't bathe frequently. Baseball notes (including the causes of death of Tinker and Evers and Chance). There are many literary quotes, some ascribed to their authors, some not. Sometimes Markson just writes a name ("Martha Argerich") or a place ("Berchtesgaden").
       What is it all ? Whatever Writer wants it to be. "This is also even an autobiography, if Writer says so."
       It is certainly personal: "About an old man's preoccupations", Writer suggests near the end. The concerns about health, about death, about posterity dominate. Writer is obviously displeased with some of the critical reaction he has received for his previous work, and he revels in the mistaken judgements about various classics that others have made ("There is no foulness conceivable to the mind of man that has not been poured into its imbecile pages. / Said Alfred Noyes of Ulysses."). Writer is clearly concerned about his death and his legacy.
       This is Not a Novel is a testament. The first sentence is: "Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing." Pretty much, as most readers know, isn't enough to tempt most writers, of course, and so the book doesn't end there, but rather begins. Still, as a whole the book is a summing up, a sort of a last hurrah. When he does finally reach the end one can imagine him truly giving up writing.
       The work, perhaps, might survive, and Markson in it or with it: that seems the hope. Horace and Ovid are quoted to similar effect.
       Near the end Markson quotes "the last words of the original edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy", and then he uses them again, unattributed, for the very last words of his own novel. An appropriate close.

       It is an odd work, but remarkably gripping despite its lack of much of a plot or narrative or characters or most anything one expects from a novel. But it is not merely a collection of sentences, either. There is a flow, a building-up, and a conclusion. And the ride along the way is surprisingly enjoyable.
       It is similar to Reader's Block, and for those familiar with that work the style and approach will not be as excitingly novel as for those who haven't read it. But, regardless of whether or not one has read Markson's previous work, This is Not a Novel -- whatever it is -- is well worthwhile

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This is Not a Novel: Reviews: David Markson: Other books by David Markson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author David Markson was born in 1927 and died in 2010.

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