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The Age of Wire and String
By Ben Marcus
9/10 from 1 review
Categories: Fiction, American Fiction
Buy at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
1 review
Shamelessly cribbed from my review on Epinions
Like nothing on this planet, this book. Ben Marcus constructs a Reimann universe of Euclidian language, in a series of short passages which insistently fashion an alternative landscape out of familiar terms. Heaven "may be hooked and slid and shifted. The bottom may be sawed through"; the mother is "The softest location in the house. It smells of foods that are fine and sweet". The biological world is architectonic, the static world animated.

The world in "The Age of Wire and String" is a disconcerting translation: just as the fish would map the earth in relief to the sea, so the movements and habits of people are re-drafted as if under alien examination. Craig Raine's "Martian" poetry defamiliarised the commonplace in plain English, but Marcus's prose is also semantically disruptive. Chomsky cited the sentence "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously." as simultaneously grammatical and meaningless: Marcus gives meaning to that kind of language.

And yet, it's not just wordplay for its own sake. Like Georges Perec and the conjurors of OuLiPo, Marcus's semantic gymnastics take on a very human dimension, stripping away the numbness with which we use our daily words. It's a book about bereavement, a loss which cannot be spoken: the epigraph hints at the shadow cast by the author's father, a mathematician, and the book's bone-dry taxologies play with the register of the technical manual and the science textbook. The world has been re-written to cover up what is missing.

"This is our great big place and we are just myself living in this house."

Unforgettable.
Rating: 9/10
Link to this review
Posted by nick sweeney on Thu, 19th July 2001, 9:24pm
1 review