Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Review: An Inventory of Losses

An Inventory of Losses An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Knowing what to say about this book will be a struggle. It is long listed for the Booker International Prize, which was confusing at first as I thought it was non-fiction. The author takes a list of places or things that are lost to us, researches it, and writes a one sentence overview followed by a fictional account that pulls the reader inside the place or time. (In the book, the sections are divided by black paper, and the preceding black page has an image also in black that hints of the content to come. The author is known for her book design, so this is one to look at in print. You may also know her, as I did, from Atlas of Remote Islands.)

I found myself drifting off, skimming. The topics were not always the most interesting, and to me the fictionalization (which might have a more proper term) was indulgent. Dree-in-Goodreads and I discussed how the style would shift - her fiction uses too many adjectives and is unnecessarily verbose, while when she is writing in a non-fiction style, it is clean and more direct. Is this a side effect of the language of German, or does this reflect a shift she intended? I was deeply invested in her preamble, where she discussed the long list of things that were lost in various ways while she wrote this book. It went downhill from there, with brief peaks of interest for the religious texts of Mani and the Palace of the Republic, both of which I was interested in from a topical standpoint, although the "story" in the Mani section was not very successful. It just took me back to the year I was obsessed with Gnosticism.

The book is an odd bird. It seems more suited to something like the Goldsmiths Prize, which is all about experimental literature. It did not carry the heft of a novel, nor was it intended to, and this puts it in strange company for the Booker International Prize.

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