A Room

Youval Shimoni, trans. from the Hebrew by Michael Sharp. Dalkey Archive (Ingram, dist.), $21 trade paper (596p) ISBN 978-1-62897-133-0
First published in Hebrew in 1999, Shimoni’s novel reads like a time capsule from the end of the last century, a time when a novel’s length and complexity were an end unto themselves. The book is composed of three claustrophobic parts. The first, also the longest (clocking in at almost 400 pages), concerns a group of soldiers on a military base producing a recruitment film. The bulk of the prose details their petty banter and backstories, yet the main text is intercut with sections, distinguished by smaller type, about a noirish investigator dispatched to report on a death on the set of the film—a man burnt alive. Contrasting dull conversations around an artless film with a meditation on death is conceptually interesting, yet difficult to slog through. The second section, told in second person, details an art student’s attempt to recreate Mantegna’s famous painting Lamentation of Christ by recruiting several Parisian clochards to break into a morgue with him and pose. Again, Shimoni contrasts their conversations and concerns with the gravity of the endeavor. The third section, both the shortest and the best, is a Borgesian mock biblical narrative about a fictional nation attempting to construct a monument to Huan, a deity, but things fall apart when no one can decide how to best sculpt the tribute. Aside from a few missteps, it is undeniable that Sharp has executed a monumental task, translating this difficult work into English, along with providing the occasional explanatory footnote. But because the book lacks the warmth of David Foster Wallace or the pyrotechnic prose of Thomas Pynchon, the question for the reader is, Is it worth it? (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/21/2015
Release date: 02/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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