When it comes to books, I believe in love at first sentence. Or maybe first paragraph, but something triggers inside me after reading an opening in a book that really hits home and soon, too soon, I’m falling in love.
It’s an odd experience for me that happens maybe once or twice a year, but when it does happen, it’s quick and makes me feel dizzy. Last year this happened with Crawford’s LOG OF THE S.S. MRS. UNGUENTINE. I remember the days weather, where I read it, how I smiled after each page, everything. Earlier this year I had a similar experience with the wonderfully odd JAKOB VON GUNTEN by Robert Walser.
Wonderfully odd, is a two word pairing that also describes Walser who wrote prose so light and precious and funny and dark and surreal, that he comes off as a sort of anti-Kafka. Or maybe a “good” twin brother of Kafka (who during his lifetime was a big fan of Walser).
What amazes me about JAKOB VON GUNTEN, and why I love it so much, is that for a book written in 1908, it feels so fresh and modern while simultaneously remaining very old-world romantic (top-hats, canes, the formality of the institute where Jakob lives). It’s like no other reader experience I’ve had. It’s a world that I want to continuously re-visit. It’s a world that amazes me that a person, a human being, created such an imaginary place that is so odd, so funny, so heartbreaking, and hopeful, that it feels supernatural. What Walser accomplishes in a fairly small novel of 175 pages, is remarkable.
All too often I hear books described as experimental or surrealism or dada – and this is something labeled innovative and new. Then what’s Jakob Von Gunten, whose dream sequences (not to mention the strange ending) are so finely tuned in their execution, so fucked-up and beautiful, that it puts most “new” books to shame?
I truly love JAKOB VON GUNTEN. I am out of breath now.