Dude, c’est moi

Edmund Gordon

  • The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell
    Profile, 164 pp, £9.99, November 2010, ISBN 978 1 84668 366 4

In a letter of 1852, when he was working on Madame Bovary, Flaubert told his mistress Louise Colet that what he really wanted to write, what he saw as ‘the future of Art’, was ‘a book about nothing’, ‘a book without external attachments, supporting itself by the internal force of its style’. From the start of his career, the American novelist Padgett Powell seems to have had a similar ideal, compelling his readers’ attention not through character, narrative or ideas (or not predominantly through them), but through the lyrical drift of his sentences, their purchase on fleeting impressions and moods. He shares with Flaubert the view that in spite of ‘external attachments’ a novel is constructed out of style, and that style is an emanation of the author’s personality. But his pursuit of that Flaubertian ideal has taken a course that is entirely his own.

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