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One thing I’ve observed from reading certain contemporary French writers is their penchant for bringing genre elements into what, for lack of a better term, one might call “literary fiction.” In the English-speaking publishing world (where I’m sure more than a few dog-loving editors buy hybrids known as “labradoodles” without complaining that the beast is neither one nor the other) it’s done with some trepidation, and published even less, as though writers and the people who advance them cold hard cash are frightened of having reviewers dither over how to classify the thing and end up ignoring it altogether. Which is generally how it turns out, anyhow.

Remainder, Tom McCarthy’s first published novel, arrived in 2005 as the ideal kind of literary fiction, showing us a new reality and refusing to give up its secrets all at once.

It’s a work of a certain uncompromising inscrutability, and like all works of art that don’t exist to strike the eye, ear or mind with an instant and gratifying rush of artifice and pleasure, it pulls us back to it time and again to check what we’d missed seeing in its mirrored surface when we first opened it. British publishers would have preferred it to be otherwise, since they all passed on it, leaving it up to a small press in Paris to release it in a limited edition, before it was brought out in the US by Random House to laudatory reviews by such writers as Joyce Carol Oates and Zadie Smith.

I’ve just started reading John Haskell‘s latest novel, Out of My Skin, and I’m going to recommend it before I even finish. I read and loved his first book, I Am Not Jackson Pollock, and this new one bares some similarities to that, but it marks a formal advance.

He has a very interesting way of using simple language to convey complex emotional and psychological states, as well as philosophical ideas. Below is the final paragraph before the first section break. It occurs after the narrator–a transplanted New York writer in L.A.–has been submerged under water in a shark tank, and it includes many of the hallmarks of Haskell’s writing: the simple language, the repetition and tendency toward self-reflexive observation, and the interest in movies/acting (Haskell is himself a playwright and actor).

“I was drinking my tea, tasting the tea and the sugar in the tea, and seeing this person in front of me, her teeth when she smiled, and the gums above her teeth. And her lips. The shape of her lips reminded me of a certain movie star, and I began thinking about the various roles I’d seen that particular movie star play, and while I was thinking, and while I was involved in the various narratives that led from that thinking, I wasn’t actually seeing the wide blue eyes of the assistant scientist. It wasn’t that I wasn’t paying attention; I didn’t even know I wasn’t paying attention. I was sitting there, in the middle of what might have been a normal conversation, and I was creating, not a cage exactly, but a sense of who I was.”

I think the only other author whose work seems similar is Jean-Philippe Toussaint–though his work is more… I don’t know, pathological. Has anyone else read either/both of these authors?