Your Name Here (Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff)

I just read an intriguing review essay by Jenny Turner in the most recent London Review of Books about Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff’s experimental novel Your Name Here (written last year, it seems, but as yet unpublished): 

Some years ago, the novelist David Foster Wallace submitted himself to a long television interview with Charlie Rose, the PBS chat-show host. It was a terrific performance, and in it Wallace talked about why, in much of his work, narrative is split into body-text and footnotes:

There’s a way, it seems to me, that reality’s fractured right now, at least the reality that I live in. And the difficulty about . . . writing about that reality is that text is very linear and it’s very unified, and . . . I, anyway, am constantly on the lookout for ways to fracture the text that aren’t totally disorienting – I mean, you can take the lines and jumble them up and that’s nicely fractured, but nobody’s gonna read it.

Last year, Helen DeWitt posted this passage on paperpools, her blog: it ‘says everything I might have wanted to say about life, the universe, postmodernism and Your Name Here.’ Your Name Here is a 120,000-word novel; DeWitt is one of its authors, the category of authorship itself having been split (its other author, Ilya Gridneff, an Australian journalist of Russian origin, born in Sydney in 1979 and currently working in Papua New Guinea for the Australian Associated Press). … They talk a lot about movies, and they both like movies (, Charlie Kaufman) in which an apparent impasse is solved by a recursive turn: ‘I love The Sweet Smell of Success. I love Malkovich in Les Liaisons dangereuses. I love Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich; I love Adaptation. Brilliant idea! We could write a book about this! We could write a book about writing a book about this! Bad idea . . .’

In a way, Your Name Here is simply a scrapbook, attesting to an odd, tense friendship, told through emails, avatars, fictional fragments, with the lack of conventional coherence compensated for by beautiful images, grabbed from the internet, of ‘Felliniesque . . . sordid glamour’ – Mastroianni and Ekberg, Mastroianni and cigarette, Adorno on YouTube talking about Beckett’s ‘deformed subject’. Gridneff’s avatars have a series of joke-Russian names (Alyosha Pechorin, Alexander Chatsky, Misha Kropotkin), and they all write much the same sort of emails. DeWitt sticks mainly to Rachel Zozanian, the prodigious but damaged author of a surprise bestselling novel called Lotteryland. Lotteryland itself features regularly, a Big-Brother-Blair-type satire in which ‘lucks’ are distributed by Lottomonitor, a cross between a home computer and a junkified I-Ching. And there’s a fictional memoir, of Rachel’s Oxford days in the late 1990s: the undergraduate body, after the abolition of the student grant, is visualised as engaging in a squalid carnival of desperate money-making schemes – phone sex, online poker, scratchcards, working, as Rachel does, as a prostitute in a Black Watch kilt.  The best and funniest ideas in the book involve the duo’s plans for diffusing Arabic throughout the notoriously obdurate medium of English-language culture – putting handy words and phrases, such as ‘Please’, ‘Don’t kill me,’ ‘I am a mother,’ in an Arabic-enhanced edition of The Accidental Tourist.

Read the whole review here, and see what you think.  If you’re intrigued about what DeWitt is trying to do with her writing, her website makes an interesting browse.  Her first novel The Last Samurai (2000) was very well received.  [AR]

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