cover image Mr. Gwyn

Mr. Gwyn

Alessandro Baricco, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. McSweeney’s, $22 (280p) ISBN 978-1-938073-96-0

A prolific European master often compared to Italo Calvino, Baricco is still best known in the States for the cult classic Silk—but that should change with this enigmatic novel, which offers genial weirdness unparalleled this side of Haruki Murakami. Posing as a pair of novellas, the book centers on Jasper Gwyn, an acclaimed author who, to his agent’s despair, has cheerfully given up his career. But Gwyn soon finds a new vocation as a “copyist,” writing, rather than painting, portraits of high-end clients. Gwyn pursues his quest for realism from a run-down studio, helped by a carefully arranged array of lightbulbs, a 72-hour sound loop, and his devoted assistant Rebecca, to whom the story shifts after her employer vanishes amid a scandal. Years later, Rebecca comes to suspect that Gwyn the copyist might have been up to something even stranger than written portraiture. The nature of Gwyn’s secret lies in the book’s novel-within-a-novel, “Three Times At Dawn,” about the mysterious and seductive Malcolm Webster, whose life’s central events all transpire in hotel lobbies. Taken as one novel, the two sections make for a charming call-and-response meditation on how art connects the few brave enough to forget themselves. (July)