Monday, 19 August 2013

A kunstkamera of thoughts: Georgi Gospodinov's 'Natural Novel'

'Mutual antipathy, just like its opposite, has no need for excuses' (pg. 39, just a quote that I liked).

'Natural Novel', the English edition.

A book without an obvious storyline - good or bad?

Georgi Gospodinov's 'Natural Novel' is one of those books. All we know is that the main character, the narrator himself, has divorced from his wife, now pregnant with another man's child. It seems, the fact of the divorce was the reason why the novel appeared; the cause of the book.

Throughout the book, apart from a few episodes, we don't know where the narrator actually is or what he is doing. It seems, we only get to read his diary, sketches from the writer's journal - while the writer himself is somewhere over there, hiding behind his clever words: making up stories; cracking jokes; chatting with flies in his room; jotting down memories; reflecting his life; imagining his own future (as a weird elderly naturalist of a small town); philosophising; sulking occassionally; collecting information for the natural history of the world's toilets.

The style of telling this novel has been compared to the way a fly sees the world, i.e. fragmented. It is like looking at the same topic (divorce) through many different eyes simultaneously. Or like looking through a caleidoscope.

Undoubtedly, this is a very contemporary way of seeing the world. While reading 'Natural Novel', at times I felt as if I was consuming a multimedia text or a website, jumping from one seemingly unrelated bit of information to another (okay, they do relate on some level eventually, the way everything in this world is related). It certainly is a non-linear way of thinking. 

Gospodinov's 'Natural Novel' was first published in 1999. I remember how around that time my own way of thinking was radically changed and diverted because I became a truly regular user of Google and internet. I remember sitting at a desk at school one day trying to write an essay for the literature class and realising that I could no longer put my thoughts in one line as I used to. The thoughts were jumping at me from all sides as if there was multimedia all around me, both inside my head and outside. I blamed the internet. 
At times reading the Gospodinov's book I felt as if reading prose poetry. There is certainly no overload of words, the texts are laconic and polished. At the same time it's quite a musical text. To me, personally, it goes well with electronical music and two films from the same era, 'Trainspotting' (1996) and 'Run Lola Run' (1998) - a concise and dynamic way of telling a story. There are no adjectives or tiring descriptions. Emotion is cut off the text but one can feel it between the lines. Or, as a popular advice for newspaper writers instructs, showing, not telling.  

One may also say that the divorcee man of the 'Natural Novel' is a master of escapism. His mind will wonder around between ideas, dreams, memories, and the more prosaic topics of flies and toilets, avoiding to point itself directly at the actual problem. That is why the book is poetic.

Talking about toilets, the protagonist is quite obsessed with them. For him, toilets are connected to the underground world. Toilet is the place to escape from an unhappy marriage. The protagonist feels, the humble topic of toilets never gets the attention it truly deserves. He might be right.

Georgi Gospodinov is currently one of Bulgaria's cult writers. 'Natural Novel' has been translated into over ten languages (fellow Lithuanians, you can find an edition in your language too).

I cannot say it has been the easiest book to read (should I just blame the hot Bulgarian weathers incompatible with my nordic physique?). However, it was interesting in the way a talk over a drink with someone intelligent is.

If there was a clearer storyline perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more. Well, but we all are now living in modern times, aren't we.    

Review by Agne Drumelyte.

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