Eleven Sooty Dreams
By Manuela Draeger
140 pp. Open Letter Books. $15.
I love weird things, as long as they’re interesting. Kafka? Of course. Lynch? Yes please.
First off, what even is this? The back of my book describes it as being a “post-exotic” novel, whatever that means. I don’t even know what an exotic novel is, much less a post-exotic one. Do I need an MFA in creative writing to be able to read this thing?
The author is seemingly as strange as the book. Manuela Draeger is a “heteronym” — that is, an imaginary character created by an author who wants to write in a different style without using their own name, unlike a pseudonym which is just a fake name — of a French/Russian author known as Antoine Volodine, which is also a heteronym. Like I said, strange.
And all of that would be fine, except that nothing in this “post-exotic novel” is compelling in the slightest. This weird dystopian, science fiction-y thing is incredibly, incredibly dull. The writing is as stale as last week’s baguette, but because it came from the French bakery chain Paul instead of the American chain Subway, we’re supposed to find it fascinatingly experimental and fun. No. It’s still week-old bread!
While reading this, I thought about the role of a supposed publisher. How, in order to assess whether a book is fit to publish, and with a pile of unread manuscripts towering over your half-eaten croissant, you read the first line. If you’re not drawn in, you toss it. If you are, then you read the second, and so on. All of which begs the question:
Who started reading this drivel and was like, “mmm! More please!”?
Perhaps the reason some authors write with pseudonyms — or, in this case, heteronyms — is because once readers get a whiff of their work they flee from anything else bearing their name. So they invent new ones. And newer ones still.
For my part, I will do my best to avoid this author in all their forms going forward. Maybe calling something “post-exotic” is just a way to avoid saying it sucks.