To give you a sense of what Lars Iyer’s novel Spurious is like, here is the opening paragraph:
I’m a terrible influence on W., everyone says that. Why does he hang out with me? What’s in it for him? The great and the good are shaking their heads. Sometimes W. goes back to the high table and explains himself. I am something to explain, W. says. He has to account for me to everyone. Why is that?
Even though the novel opens with a statement of what “everyone says,” it’s quickly obvious that this is really what W. alone says and that it’s W. speaking from the start. The novel is a story of a friendship of sorts between W. and the narrator, Lars, a very odd friendship where W. insults the narrator but seems to like hanging around him anyway, and the narrator simply reports the insults and doesn’t seem to mind them. Insulting the narrator seems to be mostly a way to fill the time, something to do when life isn’t very interesting.
The entire novel (which, I have to say, is about right at 175 pages — any longer and it would get dull) continues on much like the opening paragraph: the narrator describes his not-very-exciting doings but mostly reports what W. says to him. They are philosophy professors in England, and they travel around together to conferences when they can and struggle along with their work when they can’t. They are desperately searching for an idea to make their names as thinkers, but it’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen. W. is forever reading a book he can’t understand and the narrator spends too much of his time on administrative work. As nasty as W. can be to the narrator, he’s equally hard on himself:
‘When did you know you were a failure?’ W. repeatedly asks me. ‘When was it you knew you’d never have a single thought of your own — not one?’
He asks me these questions, W. says, because he’s constantly posing them to himself. Why is he still so amazed at his lack of ability? He’s not sure. But he is amazed, and he will never get over it, and this will have been his life, this amazement and his inability to get over it.
The narrator moves seamlessly back and forth between quoting W. and taking on W.’s voice to report what he says (as in the first paragraph above), and pretty soon it comes to seem like they are actually the same person. It takes a while to catch on to what the pronouns mean, but soon enough you get it straightened out, and then it’s like living in both the characters’ minds at once.
Which is kind of a scary thing. They are obsessed with apocalypse, convinced the world is falling apart around them. They also talk a lot about messianism, their crazy hope that something will save them, although this seems highly unlikely. Much more concrete and believable is the apocalypse that is coming soon to the narrator’s apartment: it has the worst infestation of damp and mold you can imagine, and it gets worse as the book progresses. The narrator has carpenters and plumbers and everyone he can think of come and try to figure out the source of the damp, but they can’t. So he lives with crumbling plaster and mold spores and tries not to get too sick from it. All the attempts to work, the conferences, the trips and conversations with W. are a distraction from the mold, a symbol, of course, of everything going wrong with the world.
This is a strange book, but it’s fun: the conversations are entertaining, even as they are kind of sad. It reminds me of a Beckett play where two warped characters have warped conversations in order to distract themselves from their painful lives. And what’s not to like about that?
Spurious began as a blog, which Iyer adapted into the novel. I haven’t read many of the blog posts, so I’m not sure about the differences between the blog and the novel, but I like the idea of using a blog to develop ideas to turn into a book. The blog says there’s another novel coming out in 2012, Dogma, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.