The Last Novel by David Markson

I actually finished this on the first plane trip on our way to Hawaii, but decided that it deserved more formatting than I could provide using Edward’s WordPress app, so here you go, a bit later than intended.

I love David Markson. LOVE. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I do. I saw one of his books on someone’s shelf once – I think it was Reader’s Block – and exclaimed, ‘Oh, I love David Markson!’ and they responded with ‘Have you read it?!’ in a voice of such disdain and disbelief (whether directed toward me or David Markson, I’m not sure [why would I say it if I hadn’t read it?!]) that I couldn’t help but be a little offended (on his behalf as well as mine).

To me, reading a David Markson novel (except for Wittgenstein’s Mistress, I think) is what I imagine reading a Philip Glass piece would be like (and I don’t mean reading the music, I mean reading the music). They’re made up of little…factoids, for lack of a better term, about people, usually artists and literary figures – I don’t know whether or not they’re actually true (though one of them in this books leads me to believe they are – despite that, I treat them like I do Wikipedia – if it confirms what I thought, I believe it, otherwise, if I do end up passing the info along, I make sure to preface it with ‘Well, according to Wikipedia…’) – that, when taken as a whole, eventually tell a story. And occasionally they are little notes from the narrator/author.

Well, a theme, I guess, is more accurate.

The reason I liken his writing to Philip Glass’ music is that, as you begin reading, you can’t really see where it’s going and sometimes things seem to be repeated (in one of his books, this happens occasionally word for word until you reach the end and realize that they’ve gradually been changing and becoming less accurate and coherent – brilliant!) until there is a moment (like in Dickens, too) when suddenly everything falls into place and, looking back over what you’ve read, it seems so obvious but you couldn’t have reached that conclusion until you reached that particular moment. I doubt that makes sense, but it will if you pick up a David Markson book.

For example:

Enrico Fermi once wrote an entire full-length textbook on atomic physics in pencil – without an eraser. (24)

The first opera Toscanini ever saw, at the age of four, was Un Ballo in Maschera. The last opera Toscanini ever conducted, at the age of eighty-seven, was Un Ballo in Maschera. (25)

Poor England, when such a despicable abortion is named genius.

Said Thomas Carlyle of Charles Lamb.

Anybody can be nobody.

Said Eugene V. Debs.

Novelist’s personal genre. For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.

Wondering why one is surprised to realize that Thoreau was dead at forty-five.

A lament of Schopenhauer’s:

Over how frequently the mere purchase of a book is mistaken for the appropriation of its contents. (51).

There are too many that I marked to share with you, but you get the idea. Better yet, I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick one up (Wittgenstein’s Mistress is more of a traditional novel, at least in format – I wouldn’t know for sure, though, as I haven’t read it yet [stop judging me, Schopenhauer!]). I can’t recommend him enough (despite the fact that, in the end, he’s usually a little bleak).

My rating: A+

And, look, he mentions my favorite person:

Freud’s addiction to cocaine.

Sherlock Holmes’. (107)

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