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“Natural Novel", a novel

 by Georgi Gospoinov

 

A man’s life suddenly breaks down, he separates with his wife, finding out he was not “the author of her pregnancy”. He tries to tell the story of his existence but the story constantly slips away and merges into the natural history of the lavatory, the flies, the bees (following Linnaeus, Darwin, but also Michel Foucault). The narrator’s life mysteriously coincides with the destinies of two other characters: an editor who has the same name Georgi Gospodinov, and a mad gardener (a natural scientist) trying to restore the lost harmony between the words and the things. This “fissuring” of the narration makes possible the weaving of many other minor stories, which are interlaced into the plot. Lists of small pleasures of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, lists of classical novels’ beginnings, postmodern “winks” at Tarantino’s movies, philosophical fragments, childhood memories, pseudo-fables, notes of a naturalist man, gardening for beginners – all these mixed genres delicately steal into the novel and turn it into a heroic book “about nothing, a la Flaubert” (Ed Park, Village Voice, March 28th, 2005). Though seemingly frivolous and playing with the naive, this intent of the novel is backed by some serious philosophical assumption – for example it gathers in one place Presocrates, Lyotard and Schuetz. As a matter of fact, the Natural novel is very difficult to be paraphrased. It describes itself as a facet-made novel, “like a fly’s way of seeing. A novel full of details, matters small and invisible to the naked eye” (p. 80 of the English edition). As if the ideal “natural” novel needs a fly to narrate it. The fly jumps from one topic to another, decomposes the world to its molecules, mediates between the carnal and the sublime, as the very book instructs.

 

It is my immodest wish to create a novel of beginnings. A novel which continually begins, promises something, reaches page 17 and starts all over again. ... It would only provide the initial impulse, move subtly into the shadows of the next beginning and leave the figures to interrelate exactly as they please. That is what I would call a natural novel.

 

Every critical comment “inevitably faces the problem that important things about this novel seem to be said by the novel itself”. (Boris Minkov, Literaturen vestnik, 33, 20—26.10, 1999) Yet the pages of the critical reviews, published in Bulgaria and abroad outnumber the pages of Natural Novel. Gospodinov’s book was defined as “a machine for stories” (Anne Pitteloud. Le Courrier 09.03.2002, Geneve); it is “funny and erudite, arrogant and refined, but brilliant in every respect and innovative in its form” (Jean-Claud Perrier, Livres-Hebdo, 25.01.2002). The New Yorker (March 12th, 2005) defines it as an “anarchic, experimental début”; according to The Guardian (February 12th, 2005), the novel is “both earthy and intellectual”; The Times (April 16th, 2005) qualifies it as “humorous, melancholy and highly idiosyncratic work”. Soon after its publication in the US, Natural Novel was chosen for January Book of the Month by the British literary site ReadySteadyBook.com, in February it was the Complete Review editor’s choice for fiction, in March it was selected for Book of the Week by the London Review Bookshop (14—20 March 2005). By the end of 2005, Natural Novel has also found place among the first 20 titles of Literature Eastern European Top 100 Bestselling Books according to Amazon.com and Sacred Texts.

  Book's cover

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

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