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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

  

Spurious

by
Lars Iyer


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Spurious



Title: Spurious
Author: Lars Iyer
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 183 pages
Availability: Spurious - US
Spurious - UK
Spurious - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing tale of the would-be intellectual's predicament

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 12/3/2011 Steven Poole
The LA Times . 23/1/2011 Susan Salter Reynolds
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/2/2011 Kevin Canfield
The Washington Post . 28/1/2011 Carolyn See


  From the Reviews:
  • "If Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet had just sat around bitching instead of investigating the world's knowledge, the result would have resembled this novel. It is a tiny marvel of comically repetitive gloomery. (...) Is Lars's impassive recording of W.'s despairingly vicious buffonery a kind of brilliant revenge ? Alternatively, or even if so, is there behind the melancholy, purposeless farce of this novel something like a homage to the idea of friendship, or a bracing philosophical theory of it ? Well, Lars isn't going to tell you." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "What could be more fun than laughing at intellectuals ? This, Lars Iyer's first book, sprang from his blog, Spurious, which sprang from his career as a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle University. I'm still laughing, and it's days later. But who, exactly, am I laughing at ?" - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(V)iciously funny" - Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Who should buy this book ? Intellectuals who face intellectual troubles in their own lives. There's a lot of biting satire about the shortcomings and general foolishness of the so-called life of the mind. This is graduate student wit, which is fearsomely funny if you know the grad students and professors in question, but really not as funny if you don't. And reading this in blog form must have been easier; in one long narrative string, however clever, it becomes relentless." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Spurious is a novel of the rambling misadventures of W. and his sidekick/acolyte/protégé/collaborator, Lars. They travel about a bit -- in Europe and England --, they go for walks, but mostly they just go in circles. They have great ambition (well, W. says he does; Lars is a pretty hopeless case from the get-go), but little follow-through; they set themselves goals and don't even come close -- they just fall flat, over and over and over.
       W. and Lars are of the intellectual class, but they're overwhelmed by the realization that they are not true thinkers. They aspire to an existence on this higher plane, but it is beyond them -- and what frustrates them is how keenly aware they are of the fact that it is beyond them. W. repeatedly tries to immerse himself in true thought -- tackling (or at least going through the motions of doings so) Franz Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption or higher mathematics -- but he doesn't find he gets anywhere with it.
       Kafka is an ideal for them -- but an unreachable and hence also devastatingly disheartening one. But if not Kafka then they at least aspire to follow a thinker of Kafka's magnitude; instead, all they have is each other. "Which one of us is Kafka and which Brod ? W. muses", but it's not a serious question: W. has already relegated Lars to the position of disciple (i.e. he can not possibly qualify for the Kafkaesque-position) -- but W. realizes he can't either:

We're both Brod, he says, and that's the pity of it. Brod without Kafka, and what's a Brod without a Kafka ?
       This identity-crisis is compounded by their intellectual crises (as well as the occasional real-world concerns: W. worries about the 'End of Times'; Lars worries, more mundanely, about his sopping, mildewed walls, practically weeping water, regardless of what steps he takes). They recognize the importance of thought -- that abstract, intellectual ideal -- but also recognize that it is out of their reach:
We cultivate the external signs of thinking, W. says. We can do good impressions of thinkers, he says, but we're not thinkers. We've failed at the level of thought.
       But at least they have each other -- even if: "A few days in my company, says W., and he feels iller than he's ever felt."
       It's an odd relationship they have, and difficult to explain:
     W. has thought up many excuses for me. He's had to account for me at length to his friends. Explain him !, they demand. What's going on ? And W. has to explain, as best, how it all started, how our collaboration began.
     But what can he say, really ? There's a limit to every explanation, which is to say to the sheer physical fact of my existence. There you are, says W. And before that fact, what can anyone do but shrug ?
       It's also a relationship that is both competitive and mutually supportive (in a bizarre sort of way). W. constantly rubs in how he his, if not a true thinker either, at least a bit smarter, a bit more driven.
       Typically:
     'What time did you get up to work this morning ? says W. Five. -- 'I was up at four. At four !', W. says.
       Why Lars puts up with the frequently condescending -- and always superior (even as he wallows in his own inferiority) W. -- is not entirely clear; this is Lars' account, but the focus is largely on W. and his wisdom (or whatever it is he's spouting). Of course, sometimes Lars seems just to be trying to get W.'s goat, playing Doom on his mobile phone, or reading about Katie Price and Peter Andre in some gossip magazine ......
       Spurious is an amusing take on intellectual frustration and anomie, its two characters going through the motions in a world where its unclear what the right motions are any longer. It's not like W. and Lars aren't onto something -- yet those limbs they venture out on offer little support (or satisfactions). Occasionally they'll resort to excesses of drink and food (Lars is apparently quite rotund), but it's the intellectual sphere they want to lose themselves in -- but as they try they largely find themselves lost in the entirely wrong way, flailing for some hold which eludes them.
       They do have each other, less audience for each other than alter egos, and Spurious has much of the buddy-movie to it, with its pair of Laurel and Hardy academics struggling on the periphery.
       Spurious is good, fun intellectual slapstick -- even if it's constantly failed protagonists only get readers so far.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 January 2011

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Links:

Spurious: Reviews: Lars Iyer: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       Lars Iyer teaches at Newcastle University.

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© 2011 the complete review

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