Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Nothing by Blake Butler

Reviewed by Ingrid

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Published: 2011

It's about: Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia is a memoir about Blake Butler's own insomnia, but also so much more - it includes quotes from literary works, scientific journals, even wikipedia. It reads like a new, hip version of a scholarly article with unexpected footnotes.

I thought: I was excited to recieve this book because I knew of Blake Butler from HTMLGiant and was eager to see what his book would be like. As it turned out, this book was difficult to read, which held me up quite a bit at first. It took so much mental effort to try to understand what Butler was getting at. For example:
"Days are what and what are days. Where. Days go on beyond the want. In silent corridors they go on building--a what around the what-space that sits with silence and does exactly what it is--which is nothing--and therein must go on beyond however you might think you'd make it stop."
About half way through I let go a little bit and read faster, glazing over the difficult sentences  just "taking it in," you might say, in kind of a hypnotized way. I began enjoying it so much more. For a book about insomnia, this seemed pretty conducive.

Ultimately I liked the idea of this book, but it didn't grab me like I hoped it would.

Verdict: In between. The subject matter and footnotes are interesting, but the writing is quite abstract and not very accessible.

Reading Recommendations: Check this one out if you're in the mood for something avant-garde.

Warnings: Some swearing, some discussion of masturbation.

Favorite excerpts:
"The French surrealist writer René Daumal died at thirty-six in 1944. Up to the day he died, he was working on a book. The book remains unfinished, left open in the fifth of a projected seven chapters. The book, titled Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, concerns the reckoning of a mountain concealed on earth ... the novel, after defining this event of voidspace, follows a small crew of eight people who set out in a ship called Impossible to locate [an] opening unto the mountain ... Mount Analogue, the novel, ends therein in mid-sentence, at a comma, just as the expedition begins to ascend upon the mount--the narrative sucked into the white space of its ending, transported from the page into the blank. Daumal had been working on the sentence the day tuberculosis took him out, snuffing his mind inside his body, as if the text had stopped him, or better, as if the novel continued on into himself. As if he, in his body, had come unto a hole."

"Among all [the] shapelessness, there are certain moments that emerge from in a lull - that seem to give context to the rotation of the nights around it, despite their equal utter perimeterless architecture--time aging also among time. Maybe my earliest memory of any all seems to initiate the space of all waking as mirror hall: I am standing in the kitchen of my house, before it was built onto; my mom in the bathroom running me a bath; outside it was dark and in the house was dark too beyond a dim glow in the kitchen where I was, though the light inside the bathroom there held so much bright, a light as white as neon milk, and Mom was in there sitting by the tub shape in the light's shell; the bathwater in the tub was running and she was stirring the body of it with her one hand, the other hand flat on her lap  aimed toward and looking down through the short hall to where I was, and she was telling me to come in to where she was with her but I couldn't hear her for some reason in the night ..."

What I'm reading next: I just finished Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, and I think I'm going to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens next.