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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Beka Adamashvili

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To purchase Bestseller

Title: Bestseller
Author: Beka Adamashvili
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: Georgian
Availability: Bestseller - US
Bestseller - UK
Bestseller - Canada
Bestseller - Deutschland
  • Georgian title: ბესტსელერი
  • Translated by Tamar Japaridze

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Our Assessment:

B : creative literary fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review is based on the German translation by Sibylla Heinze, Bestseller (Voland & Quist, 2017). All translations in the review are mine, from that German translation -- i.e. distinctly second-hand.]

       The main character in Bestseller is French author Pierre Sonnage. In his early thirties, he's published four fat books but hasn't achieved much success; only a dozen people showed up at the book-presentation for the most recent one. Eager for literary immortality, he decides the only path to it left open to him is the spectacular -- suicide. So on his thirty-third birthday he travels to Dubai and takes the elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa building, to make the great, life-ending leap.
       Where does Pierre wind up ? In hell -- albeit not quite the nightmarish one of popular lore. No, he winds up in what is known as 'Literary Hell', where Dante is the greeter, introducing him to a place that really seem to be so bad. There are no circles of hell, and each writer only faces a torture reflecting what his or her own particular literary sins were -- with, for example, prolific and verbose Dumas getting the worst possible one: writer's block. Other tortures aren't directly literary, but still hit home: Balzac isn't allowed coffee, for example. As to what Pierre's torture is to be, that's still to be determined.
       Adamashvili's premise offers predictable but decent literary fun, as Pierre encounters and learns about a variety of well-known authors adapting to their changed circumstances. The humor is at times a bit basic, but makes for genial fun along the way, for example in the description of Kafka:

He's undergone such a metamorphosis, you can barely recognize him anymore. He's taken up singing and started up a one-man band -- 'The Beatle'
       There's also some mystery to solve. Pierre's stock in trade in his writing is the use of secret signs and codes, and in this hell he faces some that could come .. straight out of his own books. Here he has Arthur Conan Doyle to help him out -- and then a whole lot of other authors who are also part of the puzzle. (There's barely a hint of Adamaschvili's Georgian background to the novel, and all of the writers mentioned and discussed are from the world literary stage, but while, for example, this one group of seven includes Orwell, Milton, Hugo, H.G.Wells, Beckett, and Joyce, the inclusion of Mayne Reid is the one Georgian tell: if not entirely obscure (The Headless Horseman !) , he's not a name any American or European author would have included in this bunch.)
       The literary hell-premise of the novel offers easy, good fun and might well be enough to be played for laughs over the course of the relatively short book, but Adamaschvili is considerably more ambitious. A second storyline develops in the world Pierre left behind, involving a fan of his, Lucy -- devoted enough to be among the twelve that came to his last book presentation. She's saddened by his death, but at least can still devote herself to solving the cipher-puzzle in Pierre's final work. Meanwhile, there's that neighbor of Pierre's, Claude -- who was also at that last book presentation -- who seems to be a serial killer, inviting women to his home who no one ever sees leaving ..... It turns out he has his eye on Lucy, and indeed their paths come to cross .....
       Pierre manipulates, via his book and some left-behind clues and advice, so that the earth-bound-story goes on even, more or less, without its author (who is meanwhile busy navigating the odd terrain of literary hell). Various storylines cross quite cleverly, with even the woman who rode up in the Burj Khalifa elevator with Pierre -- but didn't stay on until the they got to the top -- resurfacing, as things turn out not to be quite as clear-cut as initial impressions might have suggested. A final twist also makes for a nicely turned conclusion, with the torture Pierre is damned to revealed, even as his own story is continued (or, in a sense, re-lived, on the page) back in the real world, complete with the possibility of becoming a 'Bestseller' .....
       The playful, twisting story reminds of the works of Zoran Živković -- enough that one could call it school-of -- but Adamashvili doesn't leave it just at that either. The 'author' is a prominent and constant presence in Bestseller, and the presentation of the text teasingly undermines the narrative -- and the novel per se. Beginning with an opening chapter that is 'In Lieu of 'In Lieu of an Introduction'', the author uses typical editorial supplements that, at the same time, he subverts -- most obviously in the extensive use of footnotes (there are forty-nine in the novel), a pet peeve of Pierre's. Beyond these footnotes, in which the author-figure as often as not editorializes about the text, the characters, and their pronouncements (rather than just clarifying the material), the author actually interrupts the narrative at various points, offering a short break (presented indented, in square brackets and italics), noting that the action or whatever a character is saying at that point isn't that interesting, or pointing out something else that came to mind. It's an amusing technique, preventing the narrative from bogging down in the ponderous or overly detailed.
       Bestseller is a well -- and, despite the casual lightness of tone, intricately -- conceived work of fiction. What seems like fairly light fare is, in fact, trying to poke fun at many different aspects of writing and (notions of) literary success (including the observation by the damned authors about what is, for contemporary art: "the guiding principle of the twenty-first century: 'The main thing isn't what one portrays and represents, but what one calls it' (presumably, for example: 'Bestseller'...)). Adamaschvili's touch isn't light and fine enough to be the equal of his ambitions, and much here -- especially the casual writers-in-hell jokes -- is pretty heavy-handed, the humor more often perhaps worth a chuckle but not laugh-out-loud. But he swirls in and piles on so much that it is constantly at least entertaining, and there are some very satisfying twists to the whole thing.
       It's a short, brisk but very involved novel, and it does offer good entertainment value for the quick read that it is.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 October 2017

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Bestseller: Reviews: Beka Adamashvili: Other books by Beka Adamashvili under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Georgian author Beka Adamashvili (ბექა ადამაშვილი;) was born in 1990.

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