cover image Private Novelist

Private Novelist

Nell Zink. Ecco, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-245830-8

In this surprising and entertaining metafictional experiment, Zink attempts to translate the Israeli author Avner Shats’s 1998 novel, Sailing Towards the Sunset, from the original Hebrew, despite not being able to read the language (she bases her translation on a synopsis given to her by Shats). The result is a fractured narrative about an Israeli spy, Yigal, who while on a mission meets and impregnates Mary, a mythical sea creature called a silkie. Interspersed with literary criticism, “irrelevant interludes,” and copied-and-pasted email correspondence with Avner Shats himself, the novel winds to a kind of conclusion in which the author literally writes herself into the narrative to help Yigal and Mary dispose of a bomb. An appended short story, “European Story for Avner Shats,” about three artists on a fellowship in Florence, is slightly less scattered, and much more of a lark. Initially written in three weeks’ time and for Shats’s eyes only, the writing can be at times pleasingly uninhibited, at other times recklessly dashed off. It’s a tension that strangely fits this eccentric book, in style and in substance, binding its disparate parts together. (Oct.)