Reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson
If stories are games then Bozhinov is out to expose the rules and break them along the way. Nothing in his work is allowed to rest easy – from a politically charged description of a sunrise to punctuation on the page, every convention is subject to interrogation. Bozhinov’s pieces are dense with wordplay and an edgy hyperreal sense of historical minutiae, complete with footnotes. It is, however, a wearing and by no means comfortable read and after finishing I was left with a sense of "so what"? Sure, linear narrative is unrealistic and all writing is, by its very nature, artificial but this is not a new discovery. There was a sense that a large and beautifully crafted sledgehammer was being used to pound the shell of an already broken nut.
The most obviously metafictional and indeed Tristram Shandyesque piece is A Story in Underwear. Each page of story is mirrored with a page carrying only the punctuation used in the text, which appears precisely in the same place but out of context. It was an eerie effect, the isolated marks providing a ghostly reflection of the story opposite. Devoid of language to punctuate they hung uneasily, isolated in white space, dividing nothing. Is this genius or a joke that goes on too long (the piece weighed in at 20 pages)? I can’t decide. Certainly it was an arresting visual effect and perhaps that was sufficient in a volume that is plentifully illustrated with beautiful line drawings: Sooner or Later concludes with a picture of a human ear while the whole book is rounded off with the Illustrations, a set of elegantly rendered insect drawings.
Odd lines tugged (I loved "You were in the bathroom with mirrors reflecting all your previous existences" from The Letter) but overall I was not particularly taken by the language, which was largely preoccupied in interrogating itself in minute detail, round and round and round. Perhaps I was just the wrong reader for this collection. Describing a character in terms of lifespan every time they are mentioned ("Domenico Ghirlandaio (b. 1449, d, 1494)") is a great way to distance and alienate; it can act as a political comment, placing said character within a wider historical and political context. But the thing with being constantly held at arms-length is that unless the writer is very good indeed, eventually readers may just stop caring.
Bozhinov makes a fine job of demolishing preconceptions about short story collections, volumes of text and the very act of reading. Expectations are disturbed and a reader is never allowed to feel comfortable, let alone complacent. However, for me, the joke wore thin after a while. I'm all for challenging fictional conventions, but the best metafictionalists – from Laurence Sterne to Georges Perec – show that this can be done while still maintaining a sense of development and forward movement. It's fun, clever and thought-provoking to remove all the traditional props of story-telling, but unless you replace them with something else, you@re left with ... well, not much. But then perhaps I just didn't get it.
Read an excerpt from this collection on Kiril Bozhonov.wordpress.com.
Publisher: Beyond Art
Publication Date: 2008
Author bio: Macedonian-born Kiril Bozhinov has worked as music journalist, written and co-directed Chichikov and the Big-Nosed Devil, which was performed in London, and been published in several independent magazines, including Interlude Magazine, The High Horse, and 20×20 Magazine.
Read an interview with Kiril Bozhinov
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