Monday, October 24, 2011

David Grossman: emotions on display

It kills me, sometimes, to think how long it takes books to get translated into English. Even the more popular international authors - it takes a few years until the books make it international, as compared to Anglo literature which can often be translated internationally even before publication in English and becomes available almost immediately after.

But this isn't a post about international publishing. It's a post about David Grossman.

I just finished reading his most recent publication (from May 2011), Falling Out of Time. Because Grossman is, at the end of the day, an internationally renowned author, I presume this book will see an English publication within a year or two, but I have to discuss it now while it's fresh. And maybe give readers a bit of a heads up.

Falling Out of Time isn't a novel. Heck, it's barely even a book. 186 pages may be legit novel material for most books, but in this case... it's not. Half of the book is written in a strange and disorienting prose style, a cross between poetry and play-script. There are occasional bouts of exposition (two of the semi-narrating characters mostly tell their stories through standard paragraphs), but most pages have less than one hundred words. What the overall word count on this piece is... I have no idea, but it won't amount to much.

In general, if I tried to classify Falling Out of Time, I'd find myself running into a brick wall. The subtitle of the book is "A story in several voices" which is as apt a description as any, but is nonetheless somewhat lacking. A day after finishing the book, I can barely sketch out a plot or story, I can't tell you much about the characters, and the writing was so scattered (and to a degree poetic) that to call it pleasant reading would be somewhat off-base.

But holy heck was this a powerful book.

Tilting and falling
If To the End of the Land is Grossman's ambitious attempt to name the fear of the child's death notice (a disturbing premonition, as it may be), Falling Out of Time is the struggle to define the aftermath. True, Grossman does none of what an author is supposed to do in a work of fiction - there is no main character to immediately latch onto, there's absolutely no world-building to speak of (I quite literally imagined the characters walking around in a gray mist), there is no cohesive, consistent writing style (occasional bursts, intermixed with confusing and disorienting lyricism), and not much of a story. But Grossman didn't aim for any of these things. Not at all.

Grossman aimed for emotion. And hit a bullseye.

Falling Out of Time punches, and punches hard. Sure, I don't yet know if this book will leave a bruise, but right now the wounds are still fresh, the pain still raw. Can I picture the characters outside their setting? Are they fully-formed? Not quite. But I feel them. I can taste their emotions, I can absolutely imagine their innermost turmoils. It's a wonderful, frightening, almost intoxicating feeling. Whereas To the End of the Land had emotional impact because the reader knew and cared for the characters, Falling Out of Time has a veil of anonymity surrounding it which, it turns out, amplifies the emotional effect. And in such a short space, the impact is intense. And incredibly rewarding.

My favorite quote (p.130, my translation):

In August he died, and when 
the end
of that month arrived, I
spent the whole time thinking, how could
I continue onwards to September
and he would remain
in August?


  1. I can't wait for the book to come out in English. Thank you for a very acute encouragement to look out for it even more intensely than before!

  2. Dear Biblibio, thank you for your review. it's a bit strange to say that I am looking forward to reading such a book, but I truly am. It's Grossman's talent to get straight to the heart as for instance music does. but then with words, which in general fall short to describe emotions and feelings. It's the power of his language to bring us to a deeper level, into his inner world, and that of ourselves. Anneke from Holland.


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