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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Loss Library

Ivan Vladislavić

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To purchase The Loss Library

Title: The Loss Library
Author: Ivan Vladislavić
Genre: Fiction
Written: 2011
Length: 114 pages
Availability: The Loss Library - US
The Loss Library - UK
The Loss Library - Canada
  • and Other Unfinished Stories
  • With illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee

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Our Assessment:

B+ : beautiful book; interesting glimpse of creative process

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 12/5/2012 Matthew Jakubowski
The Witness . 14/12/2011 Moira Lovell

  From the Reviews:
  • "The topics serve as entry points to more serious digressions that slowly and carefully twine around the themes of loss and absence in art. (...) Vladislavic writes with a passion about his subjects that incites concision. With the thematic unity he's established, we come to see his assemblage of personal losses as part of wider losses of art throughout history, though he never says so. Thus, this odd book accrues a richness at having covered both personal and historical ground within the territory of the author's mind." - Matthew Jakubowski, The National

  • "The publication is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a writer of fiction and should be of interest to all those who write, have aspirations to write, or are simply intrigued as to how stories are conceived and developed." - Moira Lovell, The Witness

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:

       The Loss Library is a collection of eleven "case studies": stories Ivan Vladislavić began, or tried to, or wanted to write (or, in one case, wrote, lost, and couldn't reconstruct), but were ultimately abandoned. In each case, Vladislavić describes his ideas, and also why he couldn't see them through; as such, these are also meditations on the art and craft of writing. Each piece is also accompanied by an illustration by Sunandini Banerjee -- making for a very attractive volume.
       The title piece is the closest to an actual story, describing a library filled with the lost and never written -- and even the books "talked away by their authors" (i.e. which they ralked about but never managed to set to paper). Here one finds six volumes of Bruno Schulz, the sixty-five lost tragedies of Aeschylus, etc. Another repository-tale is 'The Cold Storage Club', in which Vladislavić meant to write about a syndicate of book-owners who buy a factory to store their books; here little of the actual story exists, but Vladislavić describes how he was inspired by Micha Ullman's Bibliothek ('Library') memorial on Berlin's Bebelplatz, with its inaccessible but also empty shelves.
       In 'The Loss Library' the librarian observes: "All the books in our library are lost in their own way", and these stray and failed pieces Vladislavić collects are also lost in their own ways. They also lead him to speculate about the nature and creation of fiction, whether considering Oulipo-like constraints -- writing a novella of 144 paragraphs, each with 144 words -- or the validity of various authorial tricks and the like, for example:

     The most compelling reason for including a photograph in a fiction is to discount it.
     It has become something of a cliche to include a dictionary definition in every piece of discursive writing, but it is a good strategy: at least one part of it will be well phrased and historically resonant.
       The failures also lead to questions, including broad ones such as:
     Is it fair to weave fictions out of the lives of real people ? How else are fictions to be made ? All fiction is the factual refracted. Is the degree of refraction, that is, the extent to which the factual is distorted the mark of accomplishment ?
       These failed stories, embellished by their back-stories and by the surrounding thoughts -- what inspired them, and what they and their failure inspired -- make for an entirely valid collection: this is not mere detritus. In fact, it's quite a thought-provoking collection -- some of these stories may, indeed, be more successful as failures than if they had been completed. And The Loss Library is also a truly lovely book (as object).

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 March 2012

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The Loss Library: Reviews: Ivan Vladislavić: Other books by Ivan Vladislavić under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       South African author Ivan Vladislavić was born in 1957.

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