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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Last Interview

Eshkol Nevo

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To purchase The Last Interview

Title: The Last Interview
Author: Eshkol Nevo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 461 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: The Last Interview - US
The Last Interview - UK
The Last Interview - Canada
La dernière interview - France
Die Wahrheit ist - Deutschland
L'ultima intervista - Italia
  • Hebrew title: הראיון האחרון
  • Translated by Sondra Silverston

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Our Assessment:

B : creative approach, and quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 20/9 2020 Raphaëlle Leyris
Der Spiegel . 27/4/2020 Britta Schmeis
World Lit. Today . Winter/2021 D.A.Stillman

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nevo integriert verschiedene Textformen in seinen Roman, Tagebuchauszüge der Frau, Blogeinträge der Tochter, Briefe, die er hätte schreiben wollen, seine Slogans für den Politiker und ihre Ausführungen. Diese vielschichtige Auseinandersetzung mit der Macht des Narrativen, die Nevo in scheinbar alltäglichen, persönlichen Erlebnissen thematisiert, macht den Reiz dieses Romans aus. Doch er strapaziert dieses Motiv über, weist den Leser immer wieder auf die meta- wie autofiktionale Ebene des Schreibens hin und kreist dabei dann vor allem um sich selbst. Am Ende bleibt dann doch nur der Eindruck einer eitlen Nabelschau eines larmoyanten Mittvierzigers." - Britta Schmeis, Der Spiegel

  • "Friendship, family, love are once again favorite themes in Nevo's fifth book. But not just these tropes. Most of the stories here are moving, revealing Nevo's capacity to demonstrate compassion toward the people he meets. His mastery in probing and describing the most delicate inner feelings in a person seems infinite. It even transcends rifts in ideology, reaching out to the beautiful human being living on the other side." - Dinah Assouline Stillman, 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:

       True to its title, The Last Interview is presented in the form of an interview, a very long Q & A, the questions presented by an online journalist (i.e. not in person, and not in real time) and answered -- sometimes directly, often at great, digressive length -- by an author.
       The author closely resembles author Eshkol Nevo -- including explicitly identifying him as the grandson and namesake of Israel's third prime minister, Levi Eshkol. Many aspects of Nevo's biography figure prominently in the novel, including his experiences as a copywriter and a backpacking trip in South America; however, things such as the names of his wife and children are, for example, different from real life -- an effort at some form of fictionalization -- and The Last Interview certainly goes far enough in that to undeniably be a novel, i.e. ultimately a work of fiction (and not just autofiction ....).
       Still, observations such as the author amusingly noting, at an event where he is being introduced, are worth keeping in mind for the duration:

I could tell that his introduction was based on my Internet biography, which was filled with minor inaccuracies. I used to correct anyone who introduced me using that Internet biography. But as time passed, I began to believe it really was my biography.
       Not surprisingly, a significant theme in the novel is the use of fact and personal experience in fiction.
       The author describes how in childhood: "I delighted in imagining. Not reading but constantly imagining". One of his young children is also a fabulator -- almost out of control, in that respect, though at an age where the parents try not to worry too much yet about the disconnect between reality and story. If his child's wild stories are obviously far from the real, the author grounds his own much more (and much more closely) in actual experience -- his own, and that of others.
       At one point the author's drivers license is suspended and he has to use public transport for several months -- and he finds he's: "stumbled on a gold mine", as he can listen to those around him, revealing their life stories on their loud cellphone conversations. He eagerly draws in and on these stories -- but is also pleased only to have snippets of them, leaving room for the imagination:
That, after all, is the important thing about the moment a book is born: It needs to have something unknown. A gap you will want to bridge with your writing.
       When he begins with the interview, the author admits he's been in a bit of a funk:
     For the last year, I've been waging an ongoing war, a trench war in every sense, against dysthymia: an acute mood disorder characterized by a chronic, low-grade feeling of depression. In simpler terms: Once I used to wake up happy and now I wake up sad.
       It extends to his writing, and is reflected also in his undertaking this particular exercise:
I have writer's block every morning. This whole interview -- to confess the truth -- is an attempt to deal with writer's block in a different text.
       Much of the interview -- or at least his answers -- focus on the state he's in, and its effects on him. He misses his once so adoring but now distant oldest daughter and the connection he had with her, which is now completely lost; at sixteen, she has opted to go to boarding school, living away from the rest of the family. His best friend, Ari, is dying of pancreatic cancer. And, by confessing to his wife, Dikla, to a one-night stand while on tour in Colombia, he ruptures what had seemed like marital bliss. Popping up throughout is also a rivalry with and jealousy about the success of Nordic thriller writer Axel Wolff -- "Ten books in the Scar series. Thirty million copies sold throughout the world" --, which eventually also amusingly plays into the theme of fact and fiction and the relation of author to work.
       The author is torn about how far to go in using this interview for his purposes. With a near-endless number of questions posed of him, and the opportunity to answer in whatever form and at whatever length he wishes, the format offers great freedoms -- and he often takes advantage of these in his answers. Still, by its very nature, the interview constantly turns back to him: he and his story remain at the heart of the novel. At times he worries about going too far -- "The truth is that I ought to end this interview" -- and admits (or reminds himself ?): "There's a limit to honesty. Even in this interview".
       The author does often reply straightforwardly to the questions being asked, but generally he uses them more as prompts, often riffing, in a variety of ways, that sometimes leads very far from the original question. He reports how someone once complained to him: "That's what I can't stand about your books too. There are so many points of view and voices, there's no way of knowing what you really think". Here, too, while the author's voice is the dominant one -- and with the question-feeder distinctly in the background --, he does move beyond it in some of his answers. Besides presenting short narratives and stories, he includes things such as excerpts from his wife's dream notebook or his daughter's weblog. The alternative perspectives provide additional information, yet of course the reader never knows how far the author can be trusted -- i.e. is putting his own words into the mouths of others, so to speak. (Occasionally he'll even admit to it -- "This is what she would write in the letter she would leave on the table before she went" he imagines in one scene -- but of course it's not always clear when he wants himself-as-author to be seen behind the words, and when not.)
       The author is coy about how he plays the game. He suggests that the main reason his daughter is estranged from him is because he used her in some of his fiction -- while also claiming to be surprised that she recognized herself in it. Regarding his marriage, halfway through the interview, he claims: "I'm doing a good job of using fabrications to conceal the real reason for our crisis" -- leaving it to the reader to decide whether he is fooling himself or has, in fact, successfully been misleading with his fabrications. The lengths he goes to in some of his answers -- not exactly evasive, but not answering in an obvious or direct way, and instead going on at lengths about what is only tenuously related, suggest he is very much trying to use the interview for his purposes, the questions little more than a very open-ended template.
       Despite the seeming presence of the interviewer, at least in the form of the questions, popping up at regular and frequent intervals, and despite some of the material written by others -- the dream notebook excerpts, etc. -- the interview inevitably feels very much like a monologue. The interviewer isn't physically there, and only very occasionally is there anything like an actual back and forth. The form seems to appeal to the author, because it almost involves someone else -- he's reaching out for human connection (something he also does in many of the stories and anecdotes he tells) -- but it also reflects his condition (and the condition of the writer in general): of being alone, and left entirely to his own devices.
       So also, as become clear in the author's account, much of his story -- many of the experiences of this time -- are about abandonment. There is his oldest daughter, who has abandoned him; his dying friend, who inevitably will abandon him with his death; his wife, who distances herself from him. So also one of the pivotal events that he recounts is of another trip to South America, decades earlier, where he also abandoned someone.
       It's reflected in his career, too. He imagines his wife having come to the realization of what it really means to be married to a writer, and realizing:
When a writer isn't writing, he's lost and troubled, and when he is writing, he's focused on himself and troubled. Not to mention the fact that everything that happens is material for him.
       Another person, familiar with his books, also cuts right to the heart of the matter:
(Y)ou don't know what community is. I can see that in your books, too. Everyone is always alone. And if you created those characters, then you must be a loner as well.
       Questions of Israeli identity and politics are unavoidable, though the author makes some effort to keep them from the fore; he's aware that he is -- and is perceived as -- an 'Israeli author', especially abroad, but his interest is in the more personal. He does venture into some of this complicated terrain -- crossing the Green Line for the first time since his army days to meet with a group of readers, curious about: "people who think and live so differently", and even venturing briefly into Syria -- and finds that some local freedoms do not extend abroad (as when he's hustled out of Singapore). Among the things he struggles with is the work he did, as ad-man and speechwriter, for up-and-coming politician Yoram Sirkin -- the details of which he has kept even from his wife. Here, too, fiction and reality merge, as Sirkin -- a nothing -- is shaped into a prominent and powerful political figure, in no small part thanks to what the author did:
Yoram Sirkin has stepped into the shoes of the image I created for him. The fiction has solidified into reality.
       Nevo adroitly uses this unusual interview-format to unfold and tell his story. His protagonist's recollection-filled answers slowly build up a picture of the author and his relationships; reflection here is based very much in experience, and he has a lot of stories to tell (and tells them quite well). The questioner is a convenient interrupting voice -- though of course the author is in control, able to go on in his answers for as long as he wants before he chooses to face the next one -- and the variety of questions also allow for a great variety of responses, in approach and subject matter, but Nevo actually keeps things fairly focused. It's a broad story, but it remains very much on track; what might seem like tangents fit in the whole. So, also, none of the questions go unanswered (at least in some form).
       Even where the free form seems to get a bit too free -- the question: "Why are there no Japanese in your books ?" is among those which come out of nowhere -- but also help the novel avoid bogging down -- though, honestly, Nevo has enough stories and anecdotes on hand to easily avoid that.
       The Last Interview is -- but how could it be otherwise, in an interview ? -- rather self-centered, an exercise in navel-gazing, but on the whole quite effective. The variety, the pace, the experiences, and the author's descriptions of his relationships with the many characters (minor and major), do make for a consistently engaging read. One might wish for the author to manage to make a greater leap, beyond himself, but The Last Interview is realistic in reminding that even those closest to us remain enigmas, and ultimately all we can wrestle with is ourselves and our own oh-so-limited understanding of everything beyond.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 October 2020

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The Last Interview: Reviews: Eshkol Nevo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Eshkol Nevo (אשכול נבו) was born in 1971.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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