May 2010
A “Dear Author” review of

The Museum Of Eterna’s Novel

by Macedonio Fernández

Central question: Can a novel ever be more than a novel?
Number of times author ran for president of Argentina: two (his campaign consisted solely of putting notecards with “Macedonio” on them at all the various Buenos Aires cafés); Obligatory plot summary: An author plans to write a novel about a handful of characters living on an estancia called “La Novela,” but before the story begins, the novel becomes obsessed with self-analysis; Representative sentence: “This novel is enamored of itself and it is the sort of novel where mishaps and adventures happen, artistic indecisions, whether to get lost in art, to be silent, to be ignorant; even as it relates events it is swept away by others; it contains accidents and it is the victim of accidents.”

Dear Macedonio Fernández,

I’ve wanted to write you ever since I learned of your ill-fated presidential run, and I’m glad that the publication of The Museum of Eterna’s Novel has finally afforded me an excuse to do so. I have to admit: while I enjoyed the book, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. You introduce it as the world’s “first good novel” and go through the motions of fiction, developing characters, building a house—“La Novela”—for your characters to live in, even elaborating a plot before the story begins. But despite all that, Eterna-as-novel (or conventional novel, anyway) never really takes shape. Meta-theorizing overshadows narrative as the book’s main focus (you say at one point that the book is interested in a “reading of itself”); prologue after prologue delays the novel’s opening (more than fifty in total); and by the time Eterna actually starts (on page 127) it’s so mired in self-consciousness that it feels more like a dry run of a play than a work of fiction. The closest I can find to an answer is the half-joking concession that you’ve left behind a perfect theory of the novel and an imperfect example of its execution.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Jessica Loudis

Jessica Loudis is a Brooklyn-based writer who works at Slate and is an associate editor at Conjunctions.

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