Monday, February 13, 2012

Review of I’m a Box (translated by Johanna Warren)

3 out of 5: Nadila, the young protagonist of this debut novel, struggles to become a writer in the formidable shadow of her obsession with Clarice Lispector. Lispector (1920-1977), perhaps the greatest Brazilian writer of the 20th century, haunts Nadila with her genre-bending novels and her mysterious life. Told in a first-person stream of consciousness, I’m a Box begins by describing Nadila’s rather prosaic life as a bookstore employee in Barcelona and gradually devolves into a strange and surreal narrative of Nadila’s writing process.

I’m a Box is at its best when it explores the process (and difficulty) of artistic creation:

Who had put a washing machine inside me? I suddenly wondered. A woman in there had turned it on. Instead of clothes it was washing thoughts, words, ideas, dreams, desires. And oh, how it hurt when it was time to spin-dry. Vertigo, disorientation, confusion, loose letters, chains, condemnations, links, interlineations, I could see it all but … how to express it, even to myself…?
At other times, artistic creation is breathtakingly easy (literally): “I had my pseudonym at the ready, chosen by a simple exchange of air between my lungs and the atmosphere that surrounded me: Andrea Selena.”

Striking passages like these make I’m a Box worth reading. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the novel is both tedious and erratic. Nadila’s childish voice lacks authority and leaves readers feeling as if they are following the artistic awakening of a mediocre talent. The final chapter returns to reality and provides a refreshing summing up of Nadila’s artistic state, but it arrives too late to save the book from its own self-absorption.

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

The writing seems really expressive and amazing, but it sounds as if the story doesn't live up to all that promise. I am sorry that this one was uneven for you. It sounds as if it's an interesting book with some serious flaws. Great review today!