cover image TELEVISION


Jean-Philippe Toussaint, , trans. from the French by Jordan Stump, afterword by Warren Motte. . Dalkey Archive, $12.95 (168pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-372-1

"I quit watching television." Thus begins this amusing, absurdist seventh novel by Toussaint (The Bathroom ; Monsieur ), in which an academic on sabbatical in Berlin struggles to shut off his set, only to become hyper-attuned to the medium's pervasiveness. With his pregnant girlfriend and son off to Italy on vacation, the unnamed narrator is free to devote himself to his monograph on Titian. Or so he believes, but he is distracted by doing nothing ("Doing nothing, contrary to what people rather simplistically imagine, is a thing that requires method and discipline") and exhausted by watching the French Open ("I was no longer physically up to five sets of tennis"), finally realizing that he must give up television. This doesn't help him make much progress on his monograph, but it does give him time to muse on his nonviewing: he reads the television listings, watches himself in the reflection of the darkened screen and realizes that Titian's initials are T.V. To read Toussaint's episodic, curiously mesmerizing tale is like channel surfing, as the narrator moves from precise descriptions of the "lacquered pedestal" on which the television sits to slapstick scenes of everyday life. Like a good producer, Toussaint knows when to roll the credits, and his short novel integrates sharp insight with gentle humor. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov. 16)

Forecast: This surprisingly accessible little book has the potential to become a bookseller favorite, and even a Christmas stocking stuffer if enthusiastically hand-sold.