Most mornings I begin my day with bran flakes topped by slices of banana, as well as the crossword puzzle. On Mondays and Tuesdays the puzzle is done before the cereal, on Fridays and Saturdays it isn't until a cup of coffee or two that the puzzle is complete. Like the other day, a Saturday, when a seven letter word for 'concoct' stumped me. Putting the puzzle aside I thought about the book I had read the day before, 'The Delighted States' by Adam Thirlwell.
The book is sub-titled, 'A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes'. That alone should tell you something important about Thirlwell's style.
The theme of the book is that in spite of the difficulty in faithfully translating novels into a foreign language, the style of a novel can still transcend traditional language barriers and that innovative styles are readily adapted by authors around the world. Examples of novels proving his point abound, using Cervantes, Sterne, Stendhal, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka et al as authors whose style echoes in the work of others from different countries. 'Point' may not be the appropriate word, since Thirlwell argues the theme in an indirect, multi-layered manner. 'Argue' works, however, as Thirlwell uses a form of the word himself, as in this short excerpt, "I have been arguing that style is the most important thing, and survives its mutilating translations ..."
Here is another quote from the book: "... [per Hrabal] literary history is like a giant game of ping-pong, where the talented players 'hit smashes over the nets as formed by the borders of States and nations'. And ping-pong is fine with me too. ... A cafe where everyone's playing ping-pong: that's my new definition of literary history. Zany, yes, and competitive, but with espresso." Come to think of it, I could use a cup of coffee myself about now.
Wait, not one word, but two words for 'concoct': D-R-E-A-M U-P. Caffeine is indeed the miracle drug! But I had better finish my thoughts about 'The Delighted States' before really returning to the puzzle.
This book came to my attention when reading Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible by Robert Alter. In it he wrote, "A recent book that does concentrate on style in the novel is Adam Thirlwell's 'The Delighted States'. Thirlwell, a young British novelist who has read widely and enthusiastically in several languages, lays out a playful tour of the history of the novel that has considerable charm and poses some important questions about style in the novel, even if it is not altogether conceptually satisfying in the answers it provides." That's a concise and fair summary.
P-L-A-Y-F-U-L ... that would be a good crossword answer (possible clues: 'frolicsome' or 'whimsical').
While reading the book provides a fair amount of amusement and the author produces some interesting commentary, it's pretty idiosyncratic ... some may not like it's rambling, digressive style. I rated it three stars, but consider that bran flakes with banana slices is one of my favorite meals (along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Well, peanut butter and apricot preserves, actually. Creamy peanut butter, not crunchy). A more imaginative person might assign four or even five stars.
Now, back to the crossword puzzle. What's a seven letter word for 'sincerely zealous'?
Addendum: Flip the book over (follow the instructions on your mattress) and it also features a "story" by Nabokov ("Mademoiselle O") translated by Thirlwell.