Thursday, July 15, 2010

Klausen: Review and Giveaway

By Andreas Maier
Translated by Kenneth J. Northcott
168 pages
Open Letter Press
August 15, 2010

Incidentally, all your dialectic is metaphysics. All the conclusions of this sort of dialectic lead to purely imaginary products. What Nietzsche calls analysis I call mere fancy and a multiplicity of combinations. You take one thing, then another, combine the two, and then say whatever comes to your mind about the combination. That's what has always annoyed me about Nietzsche. Everything, free combination, but with a claim, with a claim, I ask you!

Andreas Maier was born in Bad Nauheim, near Frankfort, in 1967. His debut novel, Wäldchestag, was awarded the Aspekte Literary Prize and the Jürgen Ponto Foundation's Literary Support Prize. In 2000 Maier also came in first place at the Ingeborg Bachmann Literary Competition in Klagenfurt, Austria. Klausen is his second book.

Klausen is a German-speaking comune (municipality) located near the Austrian border in Italy's Bolzano-Bozen province. One day, in the midst of a raging controversy over noise pollution, a bomb went off on the autobahn, or in a shack near the autobahn, or someone was shooting in Klausen's direction from a bridge - actually, we're not sure what happened exactly, only that a catastrophic event took place that has the whole town talking and pointing fingers. Anxieties over immigration and ongoing ethnic tensions fuel the rumor mill until fact blends with fiction and no one can separate the two. But there is one notion on which all of Klausen is in complete agreement: that the guilty party is likely Josef Gasser, a mysterious figure who spent years away in Berlin and whose sister is a famous actress with a politically dubious fiancé. But beyond that, it's impossible to keep anything straight.

Maier's unusual style - the narrative repetition, the single nonstop paragraph, and embedded, indirect dialogue - has earned him comparisons to Thomas Bernhard and José Saragamo. As such, Klausen has a risky format akin to that of Gabriel Josipovici's Moo Pak. But what allowed Josipovici to pull it off was his constant introduction of new topics and many unpredictable turns. Despite presenting a veritable smorgasbord of ideas, the pull created by Moo Pak's relentless, unbroken execution did much to unify the book as a whole and maintain the reader's interest. Unfortunately, Maier's attempt at a similar project falls short. The people of Klausen are groping for answers in a fog where each story seems as credible as the next. To convey this confusion, Maier sets Klausen up as a recitation of conflicting theories, unreliable memories, and real action in which all three are given equal weight. But unfortunately, that's all it is: a dry recitation that just goes on and on for 168 pages. Andreas Maier also completely lacks Gabriel Josipovici's rich, conversational prose and the result is a book that's impossible to get into.

And so, I quit on page 66, which makes Klausen my first ever review copy to go unfinished. Apologies to Open Letter Press. Of course, as anyone familiar with this blog knows, I usually enjoy their offerings and firmly believe that we will have much better luck next time.

I don't usually do this but I feel really guilty about ditching a review copy. If you are a book blogger who might be interested in Klausen, and you are located in either Canada or the US, please email me at elfay123(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll be happy to send it to you, along with the press materials. Hopefully you'll find Klausen more engaging than I did. First come first serve! (This is a finished book, not an ARC.) Book claimed; giveaway now closed.

Review Copy


Jeff Bursey said...

Dear Ms. Fay:

I read your post - a Google Alert for Gabriel Josipovici brought it to me - with interest.

Having read him, and Bernhard, I agree that if that technique doesn't have a "pull," as you say, or something kinetic that combines with the intellectual matter, then it's likely not going to work. So I'm not asking for the free copy of the book. Also, I'm not a book blogger anyway. I am a book reviewer, though, and have felt, on a few occasions, that I couldn't do the book under review any good or myself any favours by continuing to read it.

I wonder if you've read William Gaddis' _Agapë Agape_. It's a novella, published posthumously. He uses one of Bernhard's texts as a springboard. You might like it.

Thanks for the mention of Josipovici. Always nice to come across.

Jeff Bursey

E. L. Fay said...

Jeff: The only Josipovici I've read Moo Pak, which I reviewed here as part of an online book club I participate in with several other bloggers. I did enjoy it and hope to read more of him in the future.

I am a book reviewer, though, and have felt, on a few occasions, that I couldn't do the book under review any good or myself any favours by continuing to read it.

That sums up my feelings towards Klausen. I've given negative reviews before but I've never not finished a review copy. I feel guilty but at the same time, I have other reading commitments so I decided to cut my losses.

I've never heard of Agapë Agape but I'll look out for it. Thanks for the recommendation.

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