Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Golden Age

Here is a good, short summing up of an excellent book I read recently.  My own attempt to write a good, short summing up of The Golden Age ended in failure, so I recommend you read this one and, more importantly, read the book.

Although I abandoned the original post I was working on, I'll throw in a few scattered points here:

The Golden Age is very much connected in my mind with Borges.  Although JLB is constantly being cited as an influence, it does seem particularly clear in this case.  That's not to say the book is derivative, but to me, it reads a bit like a Borges story (successfully) expanded to novel length.  Calvino and his Invisible Cities is another obvious reference point that I've seen mentioned, but I see Borges as the ultimate source.  Calvino isn't necessary to explain Michal Ajvaz's invention in the same way I think Borges is.  I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Ajvaz had written a book on Borges.

One thing to watch for in The Golden Age is a particular, complex form that keeps recurring, leading the reader to believe that it may be some kind of key to the island civilization being described.  Perhaps the most concrete presentation of this form is in the description of the river that forms the geography of the island's upper town.  It comes together from divergent sources, flows for a while as a sort of braided stream, with small islands of rock where the houses of the town have been built, and then splits apart into a delta.  This coming together, flowing for a while as a more-or-less unified force, and then breaking apart again also serves as an approximation of the process by which the island's sole Book changes as it passes through the hands of the islanders, who are simultaneously its readers and editor-writers.

Dalkey Archive Press, Ajvaz's US publisher, is surely up there with the very best small-to-medium size presses, along with maybe New Directions and I don't know who else.  I had a hard time choosing between The Golden Age and The Other City when taking advantage of a sale Dalkey was running.  Now I'm thinking I should've bought both.

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