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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Yoel Hoffmann

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To purchase Moods

Title: Moods
Author: Yoel Hoffmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Moods - US
Moods - UK
Moods - Canada
Moods - India
  • Hebrew title: מצבי רוח
  • Translated by Peter Cole

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Our Assessment:

A- : seductive; nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Forward . 18/7/2015 Jenny Hendrix
Harper's . 8/2015 Joshua Cohen
Publishers Weekly . 6/4/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book resists description; it rewards slow reading instead. (...) Hoffmann writes from within his observations, not beyond them, however fragmentary they may seem. Even his figurative language has a kind of corporeality to it." - Jenny Hendrix, Forward

  • "Despite this sure-footed start, the book is full of doubts and switchbacks, a self-reflexive meditation on the usefulness of stories in general." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Moods is a typical Yoel Hoffmann work in appearance and feel. The first-person narrative consists of 191 short, numbered sections (while the New Directions volume itself remains unpaginated) -- reflective, descriptive, variously connected (and separated). Much is very personal -- mentions of experience and acquaintances -- yet often shifts, in an effect that is both inclusive and distancing, to the first-person-plural, not 'I' but 'we'. Even in sum it seems hardly closer to a memoir than a novel; it is, of course, both, too, as well as a reflection on writing and story-telling itself.
       At one point the narrator suggests, or explains:

     We don't want to write (like the mystics) things that give off a whiff of sanctimony. We're trying to write a kind of train schedule.
       There is a precision of fact and detail to much of the book, yet it feels anything but like a train schedule; deeply personal as well, throughout, it has almost nothing of the simple, limited starkness of the train schedule. Even when his instincts are most reductionist, Hoffmann's text is almost at odds with those -- proof, as it were, that cutting-to-the-essence can't and doesn't do away with the layers of meaning and resonance that come even with that -- as in the section that ends:
     Generally speaking. The government should put signs on everything. They should put the sign HOUSE on every house and TREE on every tree and so on. This way we'd be better oriented. Maybe it should send a plane up into the sky to write out, in white smoke, the word WORLD.
       Hoffmann examines his (and more generally, 'the writer's') relationship with language and content in a variety of ways. From 'generally speaking' to specifics, he cautiously experiments with expression. "Other writers lie all the time", he notes, and suggests he doesn't -- at least not as blatantly --; that he wants to remain as grounded as he can in the true and real. And yet he floats .....
       His concerns also extend beyond questions of just veracity -- including to entertaining readers, as he imagines a world where inflicting boredom on readers should (literally) be a crime (and acknowledges it's one he's been guilty of).
       In one attempt to suggest what a text or book holds and how it should be read Hoffmann explains:
     The reader should always see the paper that's behind the words. Not what was there before the words were written, but what resurfaces after they're read.
       Certainly, that's what his text(s) offer. He suggests: "This is a book of moods" -- but moods are only part of it, part of the surface, and it's in its sum and layers that the text must be seen, and reveals itself.
       Hoffmann's playfully teases readers along, too. Nearly midway through he offers a bit of a story -- and observes then:
     Some of our readers are no doubt saying to themselves: At last, a real story. I wonder what will happen next.
     We don't know if we can say what will happen next. For that we'd need real inspiration, and inspiration, as we know, comes from somewhere else, like prophecy.
       Despite what seem like so many tangents, and the short chapters with their often stray bits and pieces, Moods is far from a halting narrative and it easily pulls readers in. The structure appears loose, almost preciously delicate, in contrast to the concrete blocks of so much essay-argument, but the ultimate impression is one of considerable resonant substance.
       Near the end, Hoffmann asks:
     Imagine the loneliness of writers surrounded by the characters from all their books and unable to get away from them and go back to their families.
       It is this pull between real and fictional words, and the danger of losing oneself in one's (or an author's) work, of the work becoming a substitute for reality -- which, of course, it can not; words, description, the sign 'HOUSE' on a house, are revealing and telling and yet so far from the tangible reality -- that is perhaps the most striking theme in Moods
       A lovely little volume, and a fascinating read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 August 2015

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Moods: Reviews: Yoel Hoffmann:
  • Yoel Hoffmann at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
Other books by Yoel Hoffmann under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Yoel Hoffmann (יואל הופמן) was born in Romania in 1937.

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© 2015=2021 the complete review

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