Georgi Gospodinov wants to blow your mind—or maybe just provide the ultimate bathroom reader. The Bulgarian author’s Natural Novel is deeply unfashionable in its go-for-broke postmodern construction—a devilish jam of jump-cut narration, pop culture riffs, wholesale quotation, and Chinese-box authorship. Gospodinov digs Salinger (he imports passages from Catcher and Nine Stories), but the chief influence might be the latter’s nonlinear treatment of the Glass cycle. This aspect of Salinger’s storytelling informs Tarantino’s work. He’s in Natural Novel too.
The real Georgi Gospodinov was born in 1968 and is the editor of a literary weekly. He—or, already, “he”—publishes parts of a found MS that turns out to be the work of an older man—now a bum—who shares his name. This interior G.G. is splitting with his wife, prompted by his discovery that he “wasn’t the author of her pregnancy.” The formal playfulness suggests Kundera with A.D.D. and potty jokes. Ostensibly about divorce, Natural Novel is also, and most heroically, about nothing, à la Flaubert. The author imagines a book that would restart every 17 pages, an anthology of beginnings juxtaposed so as to forge “natural” connections in the reader’s mind. He succeeds in creating something similar, a marriage of form and function that’s airtight despite its kitchen-sink aesthetic. Given the cuckold’s predicament, it’s no wonder the book presents as a series of spontaneous abortions.
“Natural” also describes the book’s scatological preoccupations (stall graffiti, 19th-century Bulgarian terms for toilet), and the brief chapters are just right for a visit to the W.C. Connections form: Plants grow from shit, and so we get the voice of another narrator, a perfectly paranoid gardener who “must find out where words breed.” And where there’s shit, flies abound. The book’s fragmentation mimics not only the pest’s compound eye, but its zippy gift of motion. The narrator fancies that “The book of flies would certainly use no paper, it would be, how shall I put it, a book of air.” We are reminded of Burton’s “Digression of the Air” in The Anatomy of Melancholy (“I may freely expatiate and exercise myself for my recreation”). But maybe we need to step outside the medium—no paper—and think of fellow Bulgarian Christo’s latest brainstorm. Wasn’t it best to read The Gates when the wind inflamed it into a vivid book of air?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 22, 2005