Carpenter’s Gothic

William Gaddis

Wow, when Mr Gaddis wrote a novel, he wrote it so that it stayed written.

This book made me feel as if my modernism muscles had become flabby from lack of exercise. It’s told almost exclusively in dialogue, with little or no character attribution, and the entire action of the novel – with very few exceptions – takes place in one room, the kitchen of a Carpenter’s Gothic house in upstate New York. The stories of the three principle characters, Paul and Elizabeth, a miserably married couple, and the geologist McCandless from whom they are renting the house, are given indirectly via their dialogue. Gaddis’ prose can become weirdly stolid when he is describing things; a marked contrast to the dialogue, which is fluid, almost hyperrealistic, and often brilliantly funny.

It’s hypnotically good, but not the kind of reading experience in which one can let one’s attention waver for so much as a second, which is what made me feel a little breathless and feeble after I was finished. Mostly these days when I read something this stylistically taut, it’s a re-reading.

My edition of the book has the most inaccurate blurb I have ever seen on a novel.  The subeditor seems to have flicked through it perhaps once and got some things pretty drastically wrong, like for example the continent on which Paul and Elizabeth’s house is situated.

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