The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
[https://youtu.be/1XrbTqiQGcg, The Mighty Boosh innit]
So Howard Moon says it’s more about quality than quantity in the modern novel. For sure, but I can’t think of too many exciting novels of the last forty years that are the bog standard 220 pages only, 220 pages being the abbreviated, bog standard. The really exciting ones have been lengthy. And here’s one: Baret Magarian’s The Fabrications, 423 pages, just published in the United States, copies here now in the Beatnik. Written many years ago, tossed from agent to agent, publisher to publisher, it has been a long time coming. Why I do not know because it is a tour de force.
Daniel Bloch, a throwaway novelist with literary ambition, starts to write a fictional account of the life of his close friend, the drab Oscar Babel. Bloch’s purpose is to add imagined spice to a life that is otherwise lacklustre and in abeyance. Copycat reality takes shape in the wake of the written fiction. Immediately Oscar’s subfusc sensibility is catapulted incredibly into technicolour and his life thrust into the limelight: Bloch becomes a puppet master. Meanwhile the novelist sinks to his inner depths and his life plummets freestyle. This is the premise for a book whose plot develops with a cracking pace and momentum, driven by a strong narrative and keen observation. Just the simple use of descriptive colour turns each page into a kaleidoscope. The prose sparkles, crystalline and as poised as anything written by Conrad (Henry James if you want to be neo-posh) but a Conrad (or James) that kicks with the force of a stallion and giggles like a hyena. But Henry James could never make you giggle like this, he’s Ernie Wise to Magarian’s Eric Morecambe. This book is rich in humour, but it is an understated yet generous humour, deadpan, often catastrophic, as careless as Woody Allen and as hapless as Rowan Atkinson. Above all else, The Fabrications is visual: images are created as the words flutter off the page. The main characters, too, are defined enough for you to fill in their dots: you get to know their habits and, as the book unfolds, their secret traits and what makes them tick.
I am so proud to have published last year Baret’s novella, Mirror and Silhouette. But this new novel is not just lengthier, weightier, but better. In his foreword, Jonathan Coe calls it a “brilliant achievement,” for amidst the humour and chaotic circumstances of the two protagonists, it manages “to pose some of the biggest, most complex questions about life.” A satirical swipe on today’s media, the hype of the hyperlink and vacuous celebrity, The Fabrications is a melee of Gaddis (The Recognitions) and Franzen (The Corrections), has a twist of Pynchon and a nod to Peter Sellers’ Chauncey Gardiner who, like Magarian here, walks on water. It is a dazzling book.
The Fabrications is published by Pleasure Boat Studio, New York, £12. Baret will be reading from it at the Albion Beatnik on June 27th, 7:30pm.