From Publishers Weekly
The U.K.–based Josipovici (Only Joking
) offers an intriguing textual fugue on J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations
. That great work was published in 1741 and was possibly written for one Count Keyserlingk, whose personal musician may have been a man named Goldberg. In Josipovici's version, set in 1800, a German-Jewish writer named Samuel Goldberg is hired to read to the rich insomniac Tobias Westfield. Westfield claims to have read everything that has been written, so Goldberg is compelled to invent a story nightly: this book. In one piece, Goldberg recounts his experiences speculating on philosophy in the court of the local German king. In another, Goldberg's wife writes a first-person account of what it is like to be Mrs. Goldberg—or is Goldberg telling Westfield what his wife's innermost thoughts might be? Another piece recounts the breakup of a middle-aged British writer and his wife while on holiday in Switzerland—in the late 20th or early 21st century. Round and round goes the fugue (there are 30 "variations," as in the Bach) riffing backward and forward. It's a winning puzzle book à la Michael Frayn, best read as an homage to Bach's masterpiece's thick history. (Mar.)
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Taking its name from Bach'sGoldberg Variations,
as well as inspiration from its formal structure, this work hybridizes breezy philosophical meditation and fragment-based novel. Most of the diffused story takes place in nineteenth-century England, where a Jewish writer by the name of Goldberg is commissioned by an incessantly thoughtful insomniac to create a story each day to be told that night, hopefully thus assuaging the man's sleeplessness. In interspersed chapters a nameless writer, presumably Josipovici himself, struggles to finish a book he has been laboring on for years. This novel, then, can perhaps be read as the scraps of his failure to write that novel, a la Vonnegut's Timequake
. In any case, Josipovici displays a deep understanding and compassion for the various modes of artistry, be it a drawing by Klee, a fugue by Bach, or the epic poems of Homer, and how essentially they can relate to one another. Eschewing conventional narrative structure in favor of art-house modernism with a welcome lack of pretense, he reveals at no great length or depth how our interaction with the artistic process is, well, variable. Ian ChipmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved