Posts tagged ‘narrator’


Two Very Meta Books

Pulling my head out of the Infinite Art Museum of NightCafe, I will talk (perhaps briefly) about two books that I read recently, both of which were extremely meta.

This is probably because I tend to buy books that sound meta from the back-cover text and so on, likely on some theory that they are more likely to be clever or surprising or delightful than something more normal and/or less meta.

This theory may or may not be true.

I bought both of these, along with some others, at Split Rock Books the other day, when we actually went there physically, M and I and the little boy, in our first venturing out together for fun in maybe literally years I’m not sure. One of the main things we did was buy books at Split Rock Books, because apparently the huge quantities (at least in my case) of bought-but-not-yet-read books we already have isn’t yet huge enough.

Spoilers for both of these books, I suppose, in some sense. Or perhaps not. You will learn, at most, that not a lot that I found noteworthy will happen in the first one after the initial framing, and that a particular puzzling thing will happen in the translator’s notes to the second one.

The first book is called “[title]” and the author is given as “[name of author]”, which makes it rather difficult to find on the web. The one clue is a note that “cool-sounding indie label” (or equivalent) is owned by Sublunary Editions (perhaps it turns out you can’t publish a book without giving at least that one piece of true data), which led to a page about it, which aside from proving that it actually exists doesn’t provide any new information.

The page does give a feeling for the overall experience of reading the book, in that it never really abandons the meta perspective, and only indirectly tells us a few things about the Protagonist, the Author, the Narrator, and one or two (possibly imaginary) other characters in the book.

Nothing really happens in the book; the Protagonist appears to become very upset at some points, but as one is so removed from the direct action by the meta gimmick, I didn’t find it especially evocative. The gimmick is sort of cute, and in a way it was a fun read, but it never really went outside the box, or otherwise advanced beyond a few obvious (if interesting) challenges to traditional assumptions about the reader, the writer, the characters, narrative, books, and so on.

The second book, which isn’t nearly as obviously meta, is Mrs. Murakami’s Garden, by Mario Bellatin. Or probably by Mario Bellatin. Probably written in Spanish and translated to English by Heather Cleary. Assuming Mario Bellatin and Heather Cleary both exist.

The text is a little odd, a description of various things happening in a quasi-Japanese place that is not Japan. It has various small earnest footnotes defining some of the Japanese and pretend-Japanese words in the text, but also the word “Formica”. Some of the footnotes refer the reader to footnotes later in the text. The story is basically the life of a woman who is constrained and not constrained in many ways, familiar and exotic, and how she allows and doesn’t allow various constraints to constrain her. It was pleasant to read.

Then there’s a translator’s note at the end, that implies subtly that Bellatin himself translated the text to Spanish from some third language, and also undercuts itself by suggesting that the original from which he translated it was illegible.

Did the translator add that on their own hook? Was it some collaboration with Bellatin? Does the translator exist, or is the translator’s note written by Bellatin also? Was the entire work in fact written in English? Or does Bellatin not exist, and is Cleary the true author of the entire thing? Or was it all written by some third person, with Bellatin and Cleary as characters of an implicit frame story?

I investigated this on the web, violating various theories of textual criticism and obeying others, and I’ve decided that most likely Bellatin really did write the book in Spanish, and Cleary really did translate it to English and add the odd stuff in the translator’s note just for fun. Whether Cleary had Bellatin’s blessing, I dunno.

But I admit it was fun to be confused by! And it’s fun to know I could easily be wrong.