I got quite a shock when I opened the latest New Yorker and discovered a long rave review by the extremely prestigious James Wood of “Teju Cole’s prismatic début novel, Open City.” Teju Cole? My Teju Cole? I shouldn’t have been surprised; he’d told me a year or two ago that he had a novel coming out from Random House, but I’ve been distracted by other things and lost track, and now here it was.
Of course, it’s not actually his début novel, a distinction that belongs to His prior work, which he says was a novella rather than a novel, was Every Day is for the Thief (which I reviewed here). , but never mind, Teju must be over the moon—it’s hard to imagine a better review:
…Cole has made his novel as close to a diary as a novel can get, with room for reflection, autobiography, stasis, and repetition. This is extremely difficult, and many accomplished novelists would botch it, since a sure hand is needed to make the writer’s careful stitching look like a thread merely being followed for its own sake. Mysteriously, wonderfully, Cole does not botch it…
…This is one of the very few scenes I have encountered in contemporary fiction in which critical and literary theory is not satirized, or flourished to exhibit the author’s credentials, but is simply and naturally part of the whole context of a person. And how very subtle of Teju Cole to suggest, at the same time—but with barely an authorial whisper—that perhaps Farouq leans too heavily on his theoretical texts, and that this was the real cause of the plagiarism charge. … And how delicately Cole has Julius pulsate, in contradictory directions, sometimes toward Farouq, in fellow feeling, and sometimes away from him, never really settling in one position.
I very much look forward to reading it, and I congratulate a fine writer on having so deservedly hit the big time.
Meanwhile, I’m reading Konstantin Simonov‘s 1959 WWII novel Zhivye i myortvye (The Living and the Dead), and I have to thank Sashura for recommending it to me—I’m devouring it faster than I have any previous Russian novel I’ve read, thanks to a combination of relatively simple prose and page-turning action. And at night my wife and I have moved on to P.G. Wodehouse; she loved Something Fresh, so we’re sticking with Blandings and moving on to Summer Lightning. Reading Wodehouse aloud is a constant delight.