The Rear-View Mirror

Michael Hofmann

  • The End of the Story by Lydia Davis
    Serpent’s Tail, 231 pp, £8.99, October 1996, ISBN 1 85242 420 6
  • Break it Down by Lydia Davis
    Serpent’s Tail, 177 pp, £8.99, October 1996, ISBN 1 85242 421 4

Nothing in me wants to believe – nothing in the book makes me want to believe – that The End of the Story is a performance, but just for that reason I have to begin by saying what a good and believable performance it is: how much I admire the characters and the description and the action, and what a wickedly good account it gives of a novel that doesn’t much want to be a novel, that barely is a novel, but can be nothing else. I hope to lose patience and the thread soon, and get to talking about the plight of the author in the book and what the author does next, instead of the tedious periphrasis of ‘narrator’ and ‘first-person speaker’, but I need to begin by saying that what Lydia Davis proposes to us – even if (fat chance!) it’s a hoax from first word to last – is utterly compelling. As Auden would first look at a poem as a ‘contraption’ before going on to assess the kind of thing it might be, so one has to say of The End of the Story, ‘this works’ – though it’s probably the least interesting thing about it.

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