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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Book: A Novel

Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin

This book is super weird.  I can't describe it, so I'm including the book's description:

 

The English department at the University of Washagon is in a uproar. Professor Adam Snell - humanist, scholar, gadfly and faculty pariah - has disappeared without a trace.

 

Stranger still, all copies of his obscure but brilliant novel, Sovrana Sostrata, also seem to be missing.

 

Has Snell been murdered? Has his book been murdered? And, more important, if Snell is not dead, does his department have the power to fire him at his upcoming post-tenure review?

 

So begins Book, a hilarious academic caper that lampoons clever critical theorists, spoofs the New York book-publishing scene, parodies at least seventeen separate literary forms and unleashes Frank Underwood, a deranged theorist with a high-powered target pistol - and a pathological hatred for Adam Snell.

 

And that's just for starters.

 

Book also contains [...], a genetically engineered garden weed, a power-crazed, sexually dazed chairwoman, a novel accused of rape and a revolt of footnotes that halts the text.

 

Honestly, the footnotes are the BEST part of this book.  For too short a time, they are the Aeslin mice of weird academic satire.  They alone are responsible for the extra 1/2 star.  1/2 star was deducted because of violence against animals - the scene was abrupt, short and shocking.  It was over before I realised it happened; otherwise, I'd have DNF'd on the spot.  Grudin didn't need to include it to make the story work, so I'm left with feeling like a brilliant, funny book is badly dinged by the gratuitous violence.  I'm also rating 1/2 star generously, because satire does not always come easy to me, so some of the things that felt off to me, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt; I might have just missed the point.

 

Otherwise, the book was just weird.  Weird and fun.  The third person narrator is Grudin himself, telling the story about Adam Snell, who also interacts directly with the reader.  The chapters of narrative are interspersed with chapters of what can only be described as randomness, but I found if I just went with it, it worked.  The randomness was often amusing, sometimes pertinent to the story, and provided a nice breather - much like putting a book down would do, but without losing your sense of place.  Between each chapter are small sections relating the history of books and bookselling, excerpted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  

 

I really don't know how to describe it with any accuracy, but it's a great read, especially if you have spent any time working in higher education; the university politics and personalities are spot-on.  But if you don't like, or are not in the mood for, non-traditional story structure, you might want to give this book a pass.  The author plays with the story's structure, makes it part of the satire and humor, and if a loosey-goosey structure isn't your thing, Book: A Novel is going to irritate you.

 

And really, this might be the only book you'll find a footnote proclaiming: "Call me Ishmael. I was once Melville's footnote."