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    Danilo Kiš – The Attic

    8a1cbd498c81fb73fe410d82cb541620Newly translated by John K. Cox, The Attic was the first novel by Danilo Kiš, the Serbian writer whom Susan Sontag called ‘one of the handful of incontestably major writers of the second half of the century’. To call it a confident debut would be an understatement of sizeable proportions.

    Composed variously of prose, letters, journal entries and lists, The Attic is an antic account of the pseudonymous Orpheus’ attempt to write The Attic. As you might imagine, it is a novel that rarely passes beyond the bounds of self-commentary. At one point, for example, Orpheus worries that his friend Billy Wiseass will become the book’s hero. Later, somebody tells Orpheus, ‘I’m intrigued to see how you’ll bring this business to a conclusion’. The role played by self-commentary is one that the narrator is only too happy to admit. ‘It remains a horribly self-centred book,’ he writes. Such instances of self-commentary anticipate postmodernism and represent an attempt on Kiš’s part to be absolutely frank with and about his creation. By admitting its status as a novel, Kiš somewhat paradoxically manages to ground his invention in reality.

    Danilo Kis,knjizevnik.

    Danilo Kis,knjizevnik.

    But is such frankness possible? For much of the book, Orpheus is in love with a girl whose real name – much like Orpheus’s – we do not know. Orpheus gives her the name Eurydice, and thereby she assumes the role of his creation. ‘I created Eurydice,’ he says. ‘I sang her into existence!’ The pair’s eventual descent into unfinished simile, tautology and foreign languages seems to signify the impossibility of absolute frankness between creator and created. Finally, Eurydice leaves Orpheus after he insists that they address each other in the ‘tu’ form. ‘C’est un peu fort,’ she asserts. Et tu, Eurydice. An admirable exploration of the formal possibilities of the novel, The Attic is as ambitious as it is anarchic.

    This review originally appeared in the August edition of Totally Dublin.

    Kevin Breathnach


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