For a while now, a friend of mine has been urging me to read one of the great modern American classics, The Recognitions by William Gaddis. And just recently, the thought of taking on something epic in size, clever, rich, allusive and yet, by all accounts, really quite easy and engaging to read has started to appeal to me. Yesterday, my copy of the novel arrived through the post, threatening to ruin my good relationship with the postman. It’s quite a beast – 956 pages in a largish format book, but it looks extremely enticing. In a nutshell, it’s a novel about art forgery and is considered to provide a bridge between Modernism and Postmodernism. Or to quote the essay by Peter Dempsey, available here:
‘Gaddis’ first novel takes the form of a quest. In a carefully wrought and densely-woven series of plots involving upwards of fifty characters across three continents, we follow the adventures of Wyatt Gwyon, son of a clergyman who rejects the ministry in favor of the call of the artist. His quest is to make sense of contemporary reality, to find significance and some form of order in the world. Through the pursuit of art he hopes to find truth. His initial “failure” as an artist leads him not to copy but to paint in the style of the past masters, those who had found in their own time and in their own style the kind of order and beauty for which Wyatt is looking. His talent for forgery is exploited by a group of unscrupulous art critics and businessmen who hope to profit by passing his works off as original old masters. As the novel develops, these art forgeries become a profound metaphor for all kinds of other frauds, counterfeits and fakery: the aesthetic, scientific, religious, sexual and personal. Towards the end, Wyatt wrenches something authentic from what Eliot called “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.” The nature of his revelation, however is highly ambiguous and is hedged about by images of madness and hallucination, which disturbs simple distinctions between real and authentic, between faiths and fakes.’
Anyway, I was wondering whether anyone else was interested in reading this alongside me? It doesn’t matter if no one is; I’m going to read it anyway and then post my thoughts regularly on the blog from the 1st of December. But if a few people were inclined to take this on as a group read, I would attempt to conquer my fear of technology and spawn a mini-blog off of the Reading Room site. There’s a fantastic website that covers all of Gaddis’s work and includes a complete set of annotations to The Recognitions that will come in very handy, to support the reading, so the marvels of the internet are at our disposal. Well, leave a note in the comments if this interests you.
I’ve been thinking about my general reading plans for the winter, as well. I had the privilege of offering a selection of books for the next Slaves of Golconda pick, and I liked the five I chose so much that I decided I’d read my way through all of them. So, that’s Drusilla Modjeska’s The Orchard, Marianne Wiggins’ The Shadow Catcher, Ali Smith’s Boy Meets Girl, David Markson’s Reader’s Block and the one we eventually elected for the group read, Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson. I’ve got my eye on a couple of classics: The Woman’s Room by Marilyn French and The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, and some contemporary novels too, notably The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs. I’ve also got some books overdue for review, including Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth (never think I’ve forgotten you, Toby). However, I must finish all the books I’ve currently got on the go (there’s about four of them) and catch up on the outstanding reviews. I’m writing this post sitting comfortably on the sofa, with a fire burning in the stove and the rain rattling against the windows. It’s going to be a long, cold, dark winter, which is just perfect for lots of magnificent reading, right?