The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

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The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Padgett Powell challenges our perceptions of fiction with a book that explores what it is to be a novel. Sorry, but it didn't work for me.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846683664

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So, what is a novel? Does it need a plot, climax and resolution? Characters who grow? A setting? Themes which explore the human condition? And must it entertain? Padgett Powell challenges our perceptions of fiction with a book that explores what it is to be a novel, but without any preconditions. How far he succeeds is down to the individual reader. But I thought I'd give it a go.

I remember visiting a graduate Art Exhibition a few years ago where a large space was strewn with detritus from modern life, abandoned by the artist. The intention was fairly clear, a reflection on his or her impact on the environment. It wasn't until I glanced directly down that the detailing on a newspaper fragment connected with my eyes. Within a clear theme of environmental damage, the artist had created a microcosmic world in selected words that he or she had carefully painted to look like newsprint. And then I realised that every single piece of jetsam had been selected – rescued from oblivion as it were – both to symbolise the problems and record the artist's own response in exquisitely executed details. While challenging my preconceptions of art, it spoke strongly and directly to even me, a layman in the art world. I'd like to suggest that this is a yardstick for exploratory art of any kind, including fiction. So, at the very least, surely this book must make a connexion with the reader.

As its title suggests, the book is full of questions. Questions normally provoke responses from the listener, but here they lead on to more related or subsidiary questions. Sometimes there seems to be no relationship at all. Seemingly irrelevant questions form together into seemingly amorphous paragraphs and seemingly even more random sections. If there is a theme, I have missed it. I grant you that this is the way a wandering or ruminating mind works. The problem with this approach is that my thoughtful response is short-circuited by the next question until it eventually becomes a sort of word game to guess the connection between thought bytes, rather than the actual content being important. This lack of context or coherence makes for very slow reading, and I certainly haven't find it entertaining or illuminating enough to want to read more than one paragraph in a sitting.

Padgett Powell has been a University lecturer in writing for twenty-five years, by which I presume that he teaches the nuts and bolts of the writer's craft. As readers, we enjoy most those novel writers who entertain with appealing characters, pace a compelling plot, enhance their writing with atmospheric scene-setting or symbolic weight, or develop insightful themes. As writers, that's exactly why we learn the toolbox skills. If good writers succeed by capturing and developing these skills, then to ignore the toolbox is to risk not making that vital connexion with the reader, whatever the genre.

I loved the idea of an experimental novel, but I found the reading of it totally dire.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this controversial book, anyway.

For another experimental book, have a look at Diary of a Bad Year by J M Coetzee.

Buy The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell at Amazon.com.


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