Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Getting Later All the Time - Antonio Tabucchi


Thanks again to Caroline for organizing Antonio Tabucchi week. Please visit here for a comprehensive list of all participating blogs.

 It's Getting Later All the Time by Antonio Tabucchi is a very innovative and different book. Not a traditional narrative at all, it is instead an epistolary novel consisting of a series of letters from men, written to their estranged and sometimes deceased lovers. This work was challenging for me. It is mostly written in a post – modernist style. Some, but not all, of the letters are extremely difficult to follow. Some jump from subject to subject in all sorts of cryptic directions somewhat randomly. Some make myriad and, at times, obscure and arcane references to art, history, culture and science at a breakneck speed. I was glad that I had a mobile device at hand so as to look up many of the references online that would otherwise have flown over my head. Other letters are relatively straightforward and easy to follow. All are poetic and beautifully written. Sometimes they are funny. At other times they are heartbreaking.

 Throughout the novel multiple common themes recur, sometimes in a seemingly haphazard fashion. This book takes mental work! In several passages, Tabucchi describes memory and thought as being broken up into shards. Likewise, the ideas and motifs in this book are presented in pieces. The author begins to develop a bit of an idea and leaves it hanging as the prose scurries off in a new and unexpected direction. Often the idea will return in another letter, sometimes in a different “key”. There are recurring symbols. Goats, circles and angles are examples of imagery that reappear multiple times.

At times I was befuddled. As I alluded to above, I cannot imagine reading this book without the assistance of an Internet search engine. This electronic aid was indeed very helpful. The author’s postscript also provided very informative insights. It seems as if Tabucchi realized that this book was a tough nut to crack, and decided to provide a little help! Finally, healthy spurts of rereading passages after completing the book make me feel as if I had turned the tide in the battle to de- encrypt what Tabucchi is trying to say.

There are multiple themes here, some of which I believe that I have gone a ways towards deciphering, and others that I am still fuzzy about. One important set of ideas starts with an emphasis that there is not much to our physical selves other then conglomerations of blood and organs.  For instance, when one of the letter writers imagines a scene involving a human sacrifice,

the slab of stone illuminated by the revived goddess and toward the entrails that had appeared on the dolman. Without a doubt these were guts devoid of the human or animal envelope that once housed them. A fragile, whitish tube of cartridge that ended in a reddish bean, from which branched out other ducts laden with blood and lymphatic vessels. But these entrails led nowhere because the body was absent.”

This theme that demonstrates the lack of significance of our physical bodies is further developed into the idea that there is a lack of significance relating to actual action and experience. Instead, Tabucchi implies that it is imagination and memories, which are often false, and, above all, the words which make us real and are really important. Again and again, memories are often shown to be inaccurate, yet crucial, in the development as to who we are.


Imagination is similarly emphasized. The power and artistry of words is analyzed and celebrated over and over again. At one point, a letter writer describes in elaborate detail a trip that he and his girlfriend never actually took:

“This is why I remind you of the journey we didn’t make to Samarkand, because this was the one that was real and our and full and lived.”

The above is just one of multiple intellectual threads developed by Tabucchi.

If reading this book sounded like it was a little difficult, it was! However, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. This type of reading experience is my cup of tea. I love to try to dig deep, to interpret, and to work a bit on the book that I am occupied with.  I take satisfaction in the fact that I was able to crack some of Tabucchi’s secrets. I am tempted to read this work again, right now, from cover to cover, as I suspect such an undertaking would reveal a world of new understanding.

To read this book I recommend three things: first, a strong desire and curiosity to delve into the author’s very creative mind; second, patience, as some rereading may be necessary; third, a reliable Internet connection! In addition to the intellectual challenge that Tabucchi presents, he is also a wonderful writer who shows mastery of many styles. His themes and philosophies, while difficult and dense, are the product of a great imagination and contain both wisdom and insight. I recommend this one for enthusiastic and determined readers!

 The English version of this book was translated by Alastair McEwen.


21 comments:

Caroline said...

Thanks so much for joining and your wonderful review.
I never think of him as a difficult writer although I agree a lot wouldn't make much sense if you didn't either know what he is referring to or got a way to find out. I suppose in the future there will be highly annotated editions of his work.
I like that his books, although intellectually challaneging always contain wonderful qite mundane descriptions. And they are all variations on the theme off the quest. All of his protagonists are looking for something or someone. The past, the present, reality and dreams are blurred.
In think it's a good thing in his case, his books aren't much longer. Should you ever want to read something else. Indian Nocturne and Pereira Declares are the most accessible.
I've read this collection when it came out and need to read it again.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - You raise a good point, the blurring of time as well as circumstances in these letters begins to dawn on the ready as the letters progress.

I think that I would not mind longer books, other more difficult writers such as Thomas Pynchon seem to pull them off just fine.

I will certainly read more of Tabucchi and do want to read the works that you mentioned.

Miguel said...

Thanks for the review, Brian.

Again and again, memories are often shown to be inaccurate, yet crucial, in the development as to who we are.

I think this is true too.

This book seems radically different than Pereira Declares, which is a good thing.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

A "journey we didn’t make to Samarkand," huh? Why if it's not a reference to The Book of Disquiet! Tabucchi must be just suffused with Pessoa.

This book sounds like a treat. I have an alternative to that reliable internet connection.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Miguel - I definitely agree that in reality, as in this book, memories are amazingly inaccurate. A somewhat trivial example — I will attend a meeting with six or seven people. The next day there are multiple conflicting versions as to what was said at the meeting.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tom - It is amazing how many cultural references that this work bubbles with.

Unfortunately my knowledge is insufficient to do without some kind of internet connection or reference guide for this book. Tabucchi even delves into a little astrophysics and biology here!

vb said...

I was eagerly awaiting your review on this one...Sounds like an interesting read, its strange than love sounds deeper when it is lost forever..Or is it that only people who have lost their love try to explain themselves..Its curious how ew characters have evolved, I should add this one to my list..My read list is piling high than the one that I have read..

Brian Joseph said...

Hi VB - Yes the problem with read lists re that they grow faster then one can read.

It is true that something longed for is often stronger then what one has.

On the other hand when it comes to these letters there is generally not the extreme passion that one often associates with young love. They are all written by older men. The passages are more wistful, sad and philosophical. Sometimes however, the love seems deep.

vb said...

wow dat sounds interesting..the philosophical part is always gives a greater horizon to ponder...

vb said...

could you suggest me some books on Khmer Rouge..There are plenty so could you help me through..

Brian Joseph said...

HI VB - trying to dig into the philosophy, presumably if there such of a book's author.

I have not read too many books on the Khmer Rouge. I have read a fair number of random articles over the years. "Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare" by Philip Short was really good biography of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. "The Killing Fields" was great movie and paints a horrifying picture of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

seraillon said...

I still have this out of the library a year after reading it (bad me!), but I keep thinking I'll re-read it. Miguel's comment that this one seems so different from Pereira Maintains might be said of any of Tabucchi's works, as they all seem so different from one another. I found It's Getting Later All the Time to be particularly devilish, in that it has a punch line that adds a particular gloss of meaning to all the epistles, some of which - in addition to containing "obscure and arcane references, are also deeply moving.

As Tom points out, the Samarkand reference is pure Pessoa. One can certainly enjoy Tabucchi without having read Pessoa, but Pessoa is everywhere in Tabucchi.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Serallion- I totally agree. Many of these letters were very poignant.

As I pointed out on Tom's and on Miguel's Blogs, I am very interested in reading Pessoa now.

Please watch those library fines!

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

I've never heard of this author before. In the past two years, I've gotten heavily into the Young Adult genre, and have woefully neglected literary fiction, which I LOVE. I'll have to do something about that...

This book sounds like too much of a frustrating read. Although you've pointed out that it's well worth it anyway, I wonder if I would have the patience to delve into all the intricacies in it. However, I think you might be right, and that one will ultimately be rewarded in the end. So, I'll put it in my TBR. Let's see how it goes...

As usual, you've written an excellent analysis of this novel. I really enjoyed your very honest opinions and observations regarding this book. KUDOS TO YOU!!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - I had actually never heard of Tabucchi before Caroline organized the reading week.

Though I have not read them, based upon the comments of other bloggers it sounds like Pereira Maintains and Indian Nocturne, are a lot more accessible books by Tabucchi.

If you do give this one a try, I would love to hear what you think as well as discuss it with you.

Andrew Blackman said...

Fascinating! I just read Pereira Maintains, and with the exception of a little quirk in the narrative voice it was quite a conventional novel in its form and structure. This one sounds off the charts! Will be interesting to take a look at it one day - but I'm not rushing...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Andrew - Very interesting about Pereira Maintains. Some of this letters were very conventional. But as I mentioned some were really very post modern.

I do not know too many authors who wrote major novels with such varying styles.

Richard said...

This sounds like a very different Tabucchi novel than the two I've read by him to date, Brian, and yet the warmth and the erudition sound the same. Thanks for the write-up--sounds like a winner!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Richard - Everyone is saying that this one was a little different. It definitely had a lot of warm human emotion mixed in. Now i need to read some of the others to really find out how different!

Violet said...

This sounds like something I would enjoy, so I'm putting it on the TBR list. I'm sometimes very grateful for the internet when I read too, because we're not all polymaths. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Violet - I would love to hear what you think of this book when you read it.

Perhaps I am now spoiled but I cannot imagine getting as much out of a book like this without some help.