A daring, provocative take on the autofiction genre.
"Perhaps this was the reason I’d been so resistant to working on my novel all morning: I hated drug literature, which—with a few exceptions—caused anyone with a modicum of awareness to cringe. It was all, in large part, half-formed sentiment and navel-gazing drivel, seeming more to have dribbled out of the author’s mouth than been penned with any intent. Even the so-called great drug authors were undeniable hacks with no skill or insight into anything lasting or true. If there was any place in literature I did not want to stake my claim, it was among the explicitly drug-addicted—or worse, the recovered."
In what could aptly be labelled as one of the most debated and controversial debut novels of 2022, Jordan Castro takes the readers by the hand and makes them privy to his erudite reflections on the the dark side of contemporary western culture, delivering a text that is loaded with sociological as well as philosophical undertones. The Novelist is an exploration of the author's failure to create within the milieu of today's social media tyranny that never ceases to distract and divert the first-person narrator's attention from his work, causing him to inhabit a state of permanent cognitive dissonance which is explicitly manifested through his disturbed, disjointed thought process and patterns. The story, which can be accurately described in only four words: "A Study On Procrastination" unravels through the course of just one morning in which the narrator, who remains unnamed throughout the course of the book, frantically attempts to work on his prospective novel, however continually lapsing into a mode of being that is detached both from reality and his inner self as a human being. At one point, he says: "I felt increasingly like I was staring at the screen from a face that was not my actual face, but was somehow behind or inside my face, my second face; like I was inhabiting an auxiliary body inside of my body'", thus plainly highlighting his schizoid mentality, brought forth by his -borderline compulsive- non-stop entanglement with the Internet, social media, and various web applications further isolating him from himself and the others. The narrator is a former drug-addict and his novel is supposed to be a chronicle of a string of days during which he suffered from the vicious symptoms of heroin and benzodiazepines withdrawal, in his own words "My novel was a third person, present tense, short-chaptered account of three days in 2015".
Though Castro, through the voice of his sole protagonist, makes direct references to the work of authors such as Nicholas Baker and Thomas Bernhard, the seasoned reader will observe affinities with more popular scribblers, with Bret Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh being the most prominent names conjured up by my mind while reading The Novelist. Joshua Vigil in Chicago Review of Books website makes a whole different connection: "This comprehensiveness to detail, to the step-by-step and physicality of doing nothing more than opening a web browser, is not dissimilar to Tao Lin’s Leave Society" (read the full review here). Despite the narrator's loathing against the so-called "drug literature", as expressed in the passage opening this review, there are parts in which their influence is evident, without however blemishing the unique character of Castro's work. It should be stressed that the narrator is not Castro's alter-ego and the author makes that crispy clear by placing himself within the narrative, as himself, Jordan Castro, a writer whom the narrator seems to respect and loyally follow his activity on Twitter. The latter is heavily berated as a medium in many parts of the novel and the narrator makes a a point by saying early in the novel: "Twitter had become a grisly hellscape of parasitic babblers, dominated by the nothing-lords, seeking nothing and creating nothing, destroying and deconstructing", whereas elsewhere he links Twitter with pride and Instagram with vanity, thus rejecting the two most popular social media of our times. Castro lets his narrator prattle extensively regarding the trivialities which he encounters as he is incessantly scrolling through his laptop, while brewing tea and having several bowel movements in the course of the narrative's timespan. That scatological aspect has gathered a lot of attention as seen in many web reviews of The Novelist due to the fact that it further underlines the stagnant, joyless everyday existence of the narrator which is relentlessly wasted in thoughts and actions relating to the realm of the extraneous and futile. In an interview that he gave to LA Review of Books, Castro has stated: "The first time I talked with my editor she was like, “There is a lot of poop.” She wanted me to cut it down, and we did, but it’s still pages and pages of poop. To be honest, I think it’s sort of the key to the whole novel. Every major theme is contained in the poop and poop-related parts of the book" (for the full interview click here).
Even though the narrator and Castro are not the same person, the former's predicament mirrors that experienced by the American debutant author during various stages in his life, as he struggled to find the necessary discipline to sit down and fill the blank pages with words. Regarding his intentions about the tone of The Novelist, Castro has said: "It gave me a way to interpret and incorporate my own sense of artistic doom. When I started working on what became The Novelist, it was essentially a reaction to another novel I was working on, which sucked and wasn’t going anywhere". Through the narrator's approach to the nature of creativity, we also get a glimpse into Castro's mind and set of beliefs: ""There is truth in that cliché, 'Good artists borrow, great artists steal'I think it could be translated into something like: 'Good artists lie to themselves about where their work comes from; great artists see the role of the Other.' Everything involved in the creative act has to first be learned through imitation". Castro validated this theory concerning literary inspiration by saying about his protagonist: "A part of him wants to be God, so to speak, but he can’t create ex nihilo. For him, there is no autonomous creation. But there is also no God. There is only the Other. He resents his inability to differentiate himself and lashes out repeatedly". There is no such thing as a parthenogenesis in both art in general and literature more specifically, that's the main argument here embraced by both Jordan Castro and his fictional creation. The Novelist also touches many divergent themes such as drug addiction and the pains of sobriety as well as a variety of others, all approached in the same careful manner and brutal honesty that eventually becomes a trademark of the author and his work, leaving many promises for the future.
Utilizing a deadpan prose and sprinkling the text with moments of comic levity, Castro succeeds in providing the readers with a rare piece of literature that will make you question some of your beliefs regarding modern culture as well as laugh wholeheartedly with the narrator's eternal penchant for dawdling and wasting precious time. It is a bold work patterned in a way that will impel you to keep turning the pages, despite the novel's main motif revolving around the creator's idleness in a world that seems bound to keep him preoccupied enough as to generate that pervading sense of frustration that is omnipresent throughout the book. Castro ponders on the essence of the -dubious- "autofiction" genre, keeping his problematic cloaked in a story reminiscent of the work by the major representatives of the Beatniks movement in the 1960s. Castro has said in one of the interviews which he gave after the publication of his book that "The Novelist was in some ways my “anti-novel.” I didn’t really believe in the project I’d been working on, and was feeling a lot of disillusionment with the “autofiction project” overall. I wanted to demystify and flesh out what had started to feel so false about the whole endeavor". Whether he succeeded in his goal or not, and in my honest opinion he did, The Novelist promises a unique reading experience and also offers a first-class opportunity to dive into Jordan Castro's innovative imagination.
Join the discussion