Monday, March 23, 2015

Wiltold Gombrowicz, Cosmos: A Novel (1965)

Here’s a Polish author I done stumbled across.  The novel looked interesting and it was short so I read it.  BAM.

So the narrator and another student are wandering around the Polish countryside looking for lodgings.  On the way there, they come across a sparrow that’s been hanged, and this strikes them deeply in inchoate ways.  They end up in a boarding house inhabited by a bunch of grotesques, and after discerning that a pattern on the wall resembles an arrow and decide that they need to find out what it’s pointing to.  This takes them out into the garden, where they find a stick in an alcove hanging from a string, which they immediately associate with the sparrow.  More along these lines follows.  Eventually everyone goes off into the mountains.  It rains.  Nothing is resolved.  The end.

If I read that little plot description, I would immediately think, oh man, that sounds SO COOL.  Exactly the sort of thing to push my buttons.  And, indeed, it IS cool, at least for a little while, in the beginning.  The sense of ominous, inscrutable semiotic chaos, vaguely hinting at conspiracy, is very effective (it’s worth noting that this was published the year before The Crying of Lot 49—Gombrowicz gets credit for being ahead of the curve, if nothing else).  But man, I hate to say this, but there frankly is not enough to sustain this narrative even for a brief hundred-eighty pages, and in the second half I felt it seriously dissolved into tedium, more or less just relying on the narrator’s stream-of-consciousy tone to sustain itself, which didn’t really seem to me to work, though I’ll concede that there are no doubt subtleties that I missed.  It happens when you’re bored.

This may be the only novel I’ve ever read where I thought, huh.  I’ll bet I’d like this a LOT more if it were a movie.  What seems self-indulgent on the page would, I think, very likely seem cool and eerie with the right soundtrack and cintematography.  And, indeed, tooling around wikipedia, it seems that there WILL be a movie, by this guy; not that I know him from Adam, but that entry says that he’s “enjoyed success mostly with European art-house audiences,” which sounds promising in the present circumstances.  Worth keeping an eye out for.


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