Friday, January 15, 2016

Josefina Vicens, The Empty Book (1958)

And now, something short and sweet, for once. Josefina Vicens was a Mexican writer; according to Wikipedia, although she only wrote two short novels, "she is regarded as a pillar of modern Mexican literature" (she also wrote poetry, journalism, and a bunch of screenplays).  I found this novel via one of amazon's recommendation, presumably on the basis that I'd been reading or browsing a lot of metafiction.  Whether The Empty Book falls in that category is debatable, but it certainly points in its direction and as such must be at least somewhat influential.

The Empty Book is about a middle-aged man, José Garcia, with a thoroughly normal life: a wife, two sons, and a mundane office job. But Garcia is also a writer, or wants to be. He has two notebooks: one being a loose journal containing his thoughts and musics. This makes up the text of the novel. The second one is for his own novel, but this one...well, the title kind of gives it away.

So instead, he agonizes over why, in spite of his compulsive need to write, he's unable to come up with a novel. He writes about his family, his problems with his children, an affair he had a few years ago. It sounds totally banal, and in a way it IS, but in another way, one feels that his life and his will are somehow transcending his inability, and becoming art in and of themselves. At any rate, he's not giving up, in spite of a very clear recognition that a kind of mediocre life is the most that he along with many others can expect. In spite of his constant self-recriminations, he doesn't come across as self-pitying or otherwise pathetic. It's kind of quietly inspiring.

If it looks as though I'm struggling to find shit to say about this slim (a hundred twenty page) novel, that may be because it feels so airtight--like it's exactly what it needs to be, no more, no less. I mean, and also because I'm a bad, superficial critic, but that's more of a meta-reason, really. Be that as it may, though, I really enjoyed and appreciated The Empty Book. Maybe you should read it.


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