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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of philosophy, frivolity, and comedic conversation, December 4, 2011
This review is from: Spurious: A Novel (Paperback)
If it weren't so funny, Spurious would be insanely depressing. W. and the novel's narrator, Lars, both know that, lacking the genius of Kafka, they will amount to nothing. They have been destroyed by literature; it has made them "vague and full of pathos." They are equally unskilled as philosophers. They would like to be intellectuals but they suffer from a deficiency of intellect. Drinking their way through Europe, they are overwhelmed by history that magnifies their own insignificance. A double suicide seems to be in order, but the logistics of accomplishing that task are beyond them. Yet even their deaths would be pointless because they are inconsequential parts of larger structure, easily replaced by others of no greater importance.

Paradoxically, the gloomy friends describe themselves as "joyful." They tell themselves that they are content with their idiocy. They are "celebrants of rivers"; a view of the sea from a passing train while holding cups full of gin is their definition of happiness. Contradiction is a constant in their lives; they never seem to be bothered by (or even to notice) their inconsistency. W. strives to puzzle out the meanings of primary sources written in languages he doesn't understand and to decipher mathematical concepts that are well beyond him. That he gains nothing productive from these efforts does not deter him; he is certain that his life will be spent in continual amazement at his utter lack of ability. Lars, on the other hand, is a capable administrator; he feels the need to earn a living, for which W. frequently belittles him. In fact, Lars is the constant recipient of W.'s insults (W. regards verbal abuse as "a sign of love"): Lars is (according to W.) obese, stupid, lazy, untalented, ill-mannered, incapable of love, and without any fashion sense.

The story careens between the philosophical and the frivolous (as when W. tries to persuade Lars that a "man bag" is preferable to a rucksack). One moment W. and Lars are discussing the relationship between God and mathematics, the next they're pondering the causes of the incurable dampness in Lars' flat or the merits of living in Canada, where residents presumably carry "bear-frightening devices" in their vehicles. There is a zany intelligence, an absurdist wit at work here (in that sense, Spurious reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). Lars Iyer takes two characters who are lost in existential angst -- indifferent to their fates, deliberately living meaningless lives, convinced they are powerless to change the hopelessness and suffering that surrounds them -- and exposes their vapid, self-indulgent natures. Iyer's satirical take on intellectualism is spot on. Anyone acquainted with a "serious thinker" who takes his or her thinking too seriously will smile with recognition while reading Spurious.

At the same time, intermingled with the silliness are bits of genuine philosophy, deep thought disguised as idle chatter. The book demands a second reading just to sift out the sense from the nonsense, assuming it's possible to tell one from the other. As W. moans, he can never be sure whether he is "at the summit of his creativity or the peak of his idiocy."

This isn't a book for readers who can't abide stories that have no plot. This is a novel of comedic conversation, an examination of two friends who travel together, who gaze at the sea and mull over their lives, confess their shortcomings, debate the meaning of friendship, discuss obscure filmmakers, mourn or welcome (depending on their mood) the coming apocalypse, and accomplish nothing. If you can appreciate the humor in that, and don't mind that nothing of consequence happens to the two characters, you'll probably enjoy Spurious. It's fresh, it's original, it's insightful, and above all, it's hilarious.
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