I’ve been deep in the data lately, having a hard time feeling creative enough to do much writing. Which is an inadvertent but completely appropriate lead-in to what I logged on to write about. I recently finished reading Robert Walser’s The Assistant, in what may or may not be the first English translation. And while I enjoyed it, I had that curious feeling of not enjoying it as much as I felt I should have. That may seem esoteric, but I think most people should be able to relate. I was thinking, “This is good, but it seems like the kind of thing I’d love — why don’t I love it?”
I think it has something to do with the language. While I’m certain this is a very fine translation — my German isn’t good enough to make my opinion on that matter worth rendering — and I know that this prose was modern for its time (1908), it still displays both the rhythms of its time and a degree of ornamentation that most writers wouldn’t use today.
I cut my teeth on Victorian writers, so filigree doesn’t faze me. I think the problem may be that I read so frantically now — always at pace, almost always contemporary fiction — that I’ve forgotten how to adapt to the rhythms of older literature. Booklist rarely reviews reprints, so I rarely have the opportunity.
And this raises a book-reviewing conundrum: how do you review a book that you think you would enjoy more if you were in a different state of mind?
I know this doesn’t say much about the book itself, but I need to get back to writing the review. I’ll be curious to know if anyone else thinks that Colson Whitehead is a good read-alike for Walser.