Sublime, legendary, delightfully unhinged. Sam Riviere's Dead Souls is a rare and brilliant pleasure, a coiling, searing fugue of a book that takes our deranged culture and pulls forth from it a box of stars
Dead Souls is the literary equivalent of a 100% cocoa bar: intimidating, bitter, rich, and ultimately the only one worth your time. The novel seduces through relentlessly nested narratives, endlessly psychologically refracted. I have no idea quite how Rivière makes such an undertaking a compulsive and delightful page-turner - I wish I did, because I'd steal it. Something oracular and terrifying lurks just below the surface of the pitch-perfect digressions and character assassinations, like uncovering the evidence for a long-dismissed paranoia and finding yourself an unwitting instigator of the conspiracy. But it's also beautiful, intricately humane, and gut-wrenchingly funny; not so much cynical as a ruthless vivisection of cynicism itself... Reading it feels like discovering the British Bolaño, and not just for the gleeful dismantling of the cultural ego: the restless, searching sensibility; the precise tuning-in to contradictory voices. I haven't been so excited by a debut novel in a long time
As Brontë does so disarmingly in Wuthering Heights and Nabokov in Pale Fire, Sam Riviere gives a loquacious and pleasingly unreliable nobody the task of telling the tale of Dead Souls' true protagonist: Solomon Weise, a recently excommunicated poet who seems to have been everywhere and known everyone. In long, sure sentences reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard, Riviere cracks open the administrative heart of the contemporary literary endeavor, finding it full not of hot air but of crowds of characters, a whole shimmering historical ecosystem-in short, the world as we know it, as mesmerizingly real as it is fictional.
I absolutely adored Dead Souls. Reading it felt like overhearing the most exhilarating, funny, mean conversation imaginable - which is to say it made me extremely happy and I dreaded it ending
Dead Souls is elegant, ambitious, very serious and very funny - an enlivening burst of anti-anti-intellectualism.
If as I read Sam Riviere's wonderful first novel I discerned intriguing notes of Rachel Cusk's Outline Trilogy and Thomas Bernhard's propulsive monologues, I also found myself thinking with pleasure of the intricate (and hilarious) book-world satire in Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. Echoes aside, Dead Souls is its own whip smart, razor sharp, wise-funny, highly readable animal and I can't recommend it enthusiastically enough.