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Conversions (American Literature (Dalkey Archive)) Paperback – October 1, 1997
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"Exquisitely stitched narratives, and [a] sense of wonderverging on aweat the world's regal strangeness... inspires [Mathews's] novels.... Extraordinary imagination.... Told with the strictest economy, without extraneous justification or explanation." -- Times Literary Supplement
"The tragi-comedy of human ingenuity, which insists upon interpreting the facts of experience even when they are senseless, baffling, or banal.... a remarkable extension and exploration of the odd fictional devices invented by Raymond Roussel." -- Edmund White, New York Times
Text: English, German
Top customer reviews
The book is filled with wordplay ... most notably beginning with a gypsy "game" of describing the scene on a ball filled with boiling water ...; the narrator wins the game in what is called "a new triumph ... of analytical poetry over descriptive prose". Songs seem to carry hidden messages. Horse pedigrees are given in exhaustive detail. A man writes and speaks backwards - two languages, in effect, for one reverses sounds, the other letter. Old manuscripts hide clues in the red letters at the beginning of each line - if you only know what to add and where to divide. Authors and titles of books seized at customs, nine civil servants each of whom distorts language more strongly than the predecessor.
Through all the word play is a plot that is entertaining - but not always sufficiently so to motivate one to put the work into reading that this novel demands.
In short, The Conversions has a fascinating use of language in a satisfactory plot; the author is in full control at all times. Well worth your time ... but chose your time well.
The Conversions is a multi-tiered treasure hunt, filled with the Oulipo projects of experimental writing and codification. But in the dismay of the overwhelming tease of yet jucier information in his (and now our) quest to translate the square plates on the blade of his gifted/won adze, the narrative and characters spring to life. No detail is left out, though the read is far from tedious.
Definitely for fans of Italo Calvino and Flann O'Brien.
The Conversions is essentially about solving a riddle, but the search for its answer allows Mathews to do what he's best at: telling stories, and in all respects displaying a love for and engaging with the potential of language.
If you've not read Mathews before, this book will get you hooked; you'll soon want to read his novels, his essays, poems and other pieces, and will soon recognize that he is an American master, one whose works will only grow in stature with the years.