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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Natural Novel

Georgi Gospodinov

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To purchase Natural Novel

Title: Natural Novel
Author: Georgi Gospodinov
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Natural Novel - US
Natural Novel - UK
Natural Novel - Canada
Natural Novel - India
Un roman naturel - France
Natürlicher Roman - Deutschland
Romanzo naturale - Italia
Una novela natural - España
  • Bulgarian title: Естествен роман
  • Translated by Zornitsa Hristova
  • Includes an Interview with the author, conducted by Ana Lucic

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyably playful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Review . 1-2/2008 Dimiter Kenarov
The Guardian . 19/2/2005 Elena Seymenliyska
NZZ . 8/10/2007 Jörg Plath
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/6/2005 Anderson Tepper
The New Yorker . 14/3/2005 .
Die Presse . 25/1/2008 Klaus Kastberger
The Village Voice . 28/3/2005 Ed Park
World Literature Today . Winter/2001 Katia Mitova

  From the Reviews:
  • "Of course Gospodinov may be just the next person doodling on the dog-eared palimpsest of postmodern fiction. As fresh and inventive as his novel may be within the context of Bulgarian literature, it ages prematurely on American soil. (The New World has become the Old, and vice versa.) For even if "authenticity" and "originality" can no longer appear without quotation marks, the injunction to "make it new" has not entirely lost its currency in aesthetic debates. And that leads to the question, Is Natural Novel a belated East European imitation of the pomo genre, or does it offer a productive misreading of it (to use Harold Bloom’s phrase) ?" - Dimiter Kenarov, Boston Review

  • "The resulting mixture is both earthy and intellectual. Far more impressive than the academic acrobatics, however, are Gospodinov's candid, rarely glimpsed snapshots of life in post-communist Bulgaria." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Guardian

  • "Ein heiter-beliebiges Zitierspiel ist der Natürliche Roman dennoch nicht. Er wird ausschliesslich vom Zerfall regiert, und der Zerfall ist natürlich am Natürliche Roman: Den Weg allen Fleisches nimmt sich Georgi Gospodinov zum Vorbild, um die Auflösung eines menschlichen Bewusstseins und seiner recht zufällig wirkenden Inhalte in lose Teile nachzuzeichnen." - Jörg Plath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Whatever the cause, his monologue turns into a quirky, compulsively readable book that deftly hints at the emptiness and sadness at its core." - Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Inevitably, a book that takes such risks occasionally falls on its face; some of Gospodinov’s scatology feels self-conscious, and pop-culture references, presumably intended to seem wised-up and Western, come off as just the reverse. But the hits outnumber the misses, and there is something engaging about the novel’s stubborn refusal to amount to anything." - The New Yorker

  • "Überraschend ist die Spannweite der Themen bei gleichzeitiger Dichte der Darstellung. (...) Genau das macht die Faszination dieses Buches aus: dass es auf seinen knapp 170 Seiten unter ständiger Berücksichtigung der Herkunft des Autors die europäische Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte abgrast und die ihr entnommenen Splitter im Text spezifisch nachvollziehbar macht." - Klaus Kastberger, Die Presse

  • "Georgi Gospodinov wants to blow your mind -- or maybe just provide the ultimate bathroom reader. The Bulgarian author's Natural Novel is deeply unfashionable in its go-for-broke postmodern construction—a devilish jam of jump-cut narration, pop culture riffs, wholesale quotation, and Chinese-box authorship." - Ed Park, The Village Voice

  • "The narrative is rich in ministories linked by a constant fly buzz (Emily Dickinson comes to mind), and the composition is multifaceted, like a fly's eye. Because of it,; divided ownership, the story never develops toward any peak or closure. In the novel's landscape, there is neither direction, moving horizon, nor perspective. (...) The true value of Natural Novel, however, lies in its representation of everyday life in postcommunist Bulgaria as an amalgam of the mediocre and sublime." - Katia Mitova, World Literature Today

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:

       There are some meta-fictional games in Natural Novel; indeed, early on the author announces:

My immodest desire is to mold a novel of beginnings, a novel that keeps starting, promising something, reaching page 17 and then starting again. [...] Yet this Novel of Beginnings will describe nothing. it will only give the initial impetus and will subtly move into the shadow of the next opening, leaving the characters to connect as they may. That's what I would call a Natural Novel.
       That is also, to a certain extent, what this Natural Novel is -- though the book is certainly a far cry from merely being a series of aborted beginnings.
       Gospodinov presents his novel in very short chapter, many only a page or so in length. It is not quite a progression of episodes, but the story advances, if not in quite traditional manner certainly enough so to make for a fairly comforting (if not always straightforward) narrative arc.
       Gospodinov himself is at the centre of the novel -- but, while narrated in the first person, the perspective is not always the same: not only does he encounter himself, as it were, but others' stories are also related here. It's a dangerous fictional trick, but Gospodinov handles it adroitly -- and it serves some purpose too, i.e. it isn't merely a game.
       A change in his life is the central crisis in the novel: his marriage has fallen apart, and his wife gotten pregnant by another man. He returns to this frequently, describing their marriage and its dissolution, but the book also offers many un- or only distantly related episodes and stories.
       It is, in part, a novel about trying to capture and convey life (as a means of trying to make sense of it): the idea of writing a 'Natural Novel' is one example, but others include his plan to write a novel using only verbs ("Only the verb is honest, accurate, and aloof") or his ruminations on: "What kind of novel would we get if a fly could write a story ...".
       In the abstract it sounds terribly technical, a carefully mapped out game, but far more than most such novels, Natural Novel impresses both piece by piece and as a whole. The vignettes are well-crafted, enjoyable if sometimes bizarre (toilets are among the topics returned to with some greater than expected frequency), and while they may seem stray and scattered, the connexions are true-to-life, in that any life is a similar mix of the present, memories, and stories.
       Gospodinov writes well, and Natural Novel is a quick and enjoyable -- and surprisingly affecting -- work. Much of the success in the book probably lies in the fact that the writer's central crisis is personal (the collapse of his marriage) rather than simply artistic (how he should write), and the anguish and confusion (and, especially, the loss of a sense of time) of such a situation is convincingly presented.

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Natural Novel: Reviews: Georgi Gospodinov: Other books by Georgi Gospodinov under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov (Георги Господинов) was born in 1968.

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