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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary curiosities

Invisible Forms

Kevin Jackson

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To purchase Invisible Forms

Title: Invisible Forms
Author: Kevin Jackson
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1999
Length: 307 pages
Availability: Invisible Forms - US
Invisible Forms - UK
Invisible Forms - Canada
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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining literary stuff

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 30/10/1999 Sean French
Modern Language Quarterly . (64/2) William Flesch
TLS . 26/11/1999 Simon Jarvis

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book is crammed with wonderful oddities and shrewd observations; but the larger point is that there is no such thing as a neutral literary apparatus, invisibly supporting the text. Every bit of a book has its own complicated meanings and pleasures and, as Jackson repeatedly shows, in literature the scenery has a way of coming to the centre of the stage. (...) Invisible Forms would be worth reading just for the specimens Jackson has assembled." - Sean French, The Independent

  • "Where the mingled disgust and fascination fuelling a work like The Dunciad could from the spilt ink of paratexts extrapolate the demise of an entire culture, Invisible Forms settles down rather contentedly in its garret. (...) It is appropriate that one of the book's own paratexts should supply the justest measure of its performance. Invisible Forms is, as the jacket copy declares, "the perfect companion for literature lovers everywhere"." - Simon Jarvis, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In Invisible Forms, Kevin Jackson concerns himself with paratexts -- "all the minor elements and dressings which help serve up the principal content of a book to its readership". He offers chapters on such subjects as introductions, titles, dedications, epigraphs, footnotes, marginalia, even indexes, as well as stretching his definition to allow for such things as an homage to Isaac D'Israeli and a discussion of Oulipian experiments.
       The book is very cleverly done, which makes it a pleasure to peruse. To cite only the most obvious example: the chapter on marginalia includes a great deal of ostensibly penned-in marginalia. Throughout the book there are such sorts of games, depending on the subject matter. The book is also extensively footnoted (not just the chapter on footnotes), with all sorts of observations -- often of a personal nature, such as Jackson's admission that he finds the title of Michael Ondaatje's Coming through Slaughter "so spellbinding that I don't want to risk reading the novel in case the contents don't live up to it."
       Jackson is a very literary fellow -- well read, knowledgeable, yet not at all stuffy (indeed, one is more likely to fault him for almost always trying to strike a light note). The book is terribly erudite -- or rather: wonderfully erudite, with Jackson not demanding too much from his readers, while still citing an almost overwhelming (and almost invariably entertaining) range of examples.
       There have, of course, been whole books about some of these subjects: Anthony Grafton's The Footnote, Adrian Room on pseudonyms, André Bernard's Now all we need is a Title, and Gérard Genette's Paratexts, all acknowledged (and generally much referred-to) by Jackson. Others appeared after publication of the book, notably Alasdair Gray's The Book of Prefaces (see our review) (though Jackson should have known about that one). Still, Jackson's generally brief yet broad introductions to the various invisible forms are almost all of interest and use.
       Some are particularly good -- stage directions ! epigraphs ! Others are a bit disappointing: blurbs could be covered in more depth (especially the back-cover endorsements from authorial friends and publishing lackeys, which Jackson largely ignores), and the discussion of dedications also seems not to cover all the possibilities. Acknowledgements too.
       It's hard to argue against homages to Isaac D'Israeli and Georges Perec, though both seem a bit out of place (whereas the many authors that was Fernando Pessoa deserves all the space given over to him/them, for obvious reasons).
       One invisible form unfortunately left out by Jackson is a very important one: errata. (Or was there an errata slip which slipped out of our copy ?) And, unfortunately, the book is in need of one. Not so much the book as a whole -- though the spelling Alastair Gray did shock us -- but one ugly part of it: the Index.
       Jackson has a chapter on Indexes, revelling in the thrill that can be found in a good index (and oh what a thrill it can be !). And then he closes that chapter (and the book) with the words:

Kind reader, now proceed to the index -- prepared, as is often the case, not by the bumbling author but by another writer -- and regard it with renewed affection and respect.
       As inveterate index-perusers we had, of course, turned to it long before -- and been not only disappointed, but shocked. It is a bland name-index, with no embellishments. That we could tolerate -- but names mentioned in the text go unlisted (Alasdair Gray and Les Murray among them). Worse yet, names that are correctly spelt in the text are mangled in the index: Jean-Paul Satre ? Harry Matthews ? Raymond Roussell ? Neal Casady ? This is something we should respect ? This is something we should show affection for ? Phooey: this is crap. Bumbled, horrible crap. The anguish ! The horror ! Such a nicely done book, brought to such a shoddy, shameful close.
        (Note that we refer to the November 2000 first US edition of the text -- though we suspect it is identical to the earlier British edition. We hope the Index is an American aberration; we fear it is not. (Please tell us they at least fixed it for the British paperback edition .....))

       Jackson is a wonderfully clever and literate fellow, and it a pleasure to read his digressions, observations, and explanations. One might not believe there would be so much to say on these subjects, but there clearly is -- if anything, the book left us thirsting for much more. Certainly recommended.

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Invisible Forms: Reviews: Other books by Kevin Jackson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Kevin Jackson has written several works of non-fiction.

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© 2002-2009 the complete review

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