A review of

Natural Novel

by Georgi Gospodinov

Central question: What if your wife were pregnant with another man’s child?
Format: 136 pp., paperback; Size: 5" x 8"; Print run: 5,800; Price: $12.50; Editor: John O’Brien; Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Cover design: Yana Levieva; Interior design: Samuel Berkes; Typeface: Simoncini Garamond; Season when the book was mainly written: fall; Novel’s structure is based on: the atomic philosophy of Democritus and the fly’s multi-angled way of seeing; Number of M.A. theses dedicated to this novel in different European universities: 5; Representative sentence: “Well, the world was not particularly moved by my absence.”

I was worried that my vast ignorance of Bulgarian literature might get in the way of a critical appreciation of Georgi Gospodinov’s Natural Novel, which was first published in 1999 and now appears in the Eastern European Literature Series of the Dalkey Archive Press. But my worry was unfounded because Gospodinov’s novel, with its metafictional games, playful narrative fragmentation, and obligatory epigraph from Foucault, belongs more to the cosmopolitan postmodern aesthetic of Italo Calvino than its native locale.

In truth, the novel could have been set almost anywhere, and readers who have reached the point of exhaustion with novels in which writers write about writing, where writer characters cross paths with people who share their name and who also are writers, etc., might put this book down too quickly. That would be a shame, because Gospodinov, a thirtysomething literary editor and professor in Sofia, is not the sort of experimentalist who uses metafiction to flaunt a belief that there is nothing left to say. If anything, Gospodinov is the opposite kind of writer, constructing a baroque apparatus of false starts, digressions, devices, and dodges in order to avoid an extraordinarily painful story—that of a writer who finds out his wife is pregnant with another man’s child. The basic trauma of the situation is ineluctable, so that the more yarns the narrator spins around it, the more you sense his desperation and avoidance.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—J. M. Tyree

J. M. Tyree’s essay “Dr. Thompson’s Wars” appeared in the April issue of the Believer. His work has been published or is forthcoming in New England Review, Antioch Review, and Gettysburg Review.

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