One-Minute Book Reviews

November 1, 2006

Canadian Novelist Gail Scott’s Paris

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:01 pm

Experimental fiction. Punctuated. Like This. Not Like. Gopnik. Or Le Divorce.

My Paris. By Gail Scott. Dalkey Archive, 138 pp., $12.95, paperback.

Georges Perec, the French experimentalist, once wrote a novel without using the letter “e.” Canadian novelist Gail Scott shows a spiritual kinship with him in this slender, postmodern meditation on the City of Light.

My Paris is billed, somewhat unconvincingly, as “fiction” and takes the form of a diary so cryptic it resembles a prose poem. Scott practices a literary pointillism that is as different from Adam Gopnik’s Paris dispatches or Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce as Seurat’s paintings are from Chardin’s. The first lines of her book suggest its idiosyncratic tone and punctuation: “Like a heroine from Balzac. I am on a divan. Narrow. Covered with a small abstract black-and-white print.”

Such self-consciously literary prose makes My Paris read like a creative-writing exercise. (“Write a story that uses punctuation to suggest fragmented emotions.”) But Scott is a thoughtful and painterly writer whose technique, if cloying, can produce telling images such as this one of the novelist Colette as an “old hedonist”: “She grooming fifty minutes daily. Standing by mirror. Automatically straightening sagging hip. And writing fifty books.”

Best Line: Many are phrases: “Looking out window. Pale blue sky beyond anarchy of chimney pots.”

Worst line: “Wonderful exhibition! I grinning.” Scott’s pointillist technique is least effective when she drops the verb “to be” from present participles, which she does often.

Recommended if … you majored in semiotics at Brown or Finnegans Wake is your favorite book.

Editor: Martin Riker

Published: 2003 (first American edition)

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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