Vol. XXII, #1 Italo Calvino / Ursule Molinaro / B. S. Johnson
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Dump This Book While You Still Can!, by Marcel Bénabou. Trans. Steven Rendall
reviewed by Chad W. Post
Intro. Warren Motte. Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2001. 177 pp. Paper: $19.95
Marcel Bénabou (Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books) deserves a prize for creating some of the most intriguing titles of the past fifty years, beyond which lie some of the most playful French writing of recent memory. In contrast to his earlier novels, the focus of Dump This Book is on the process of reading instead of writing. The story opens with the narrator discovering a mysterious book amid a pile of volumes given to him by his friend Flauzac. Flipping to its first page, he is assaulted by the author’s commands: “Come on, dump this book. Or better yet, throw it as far away as you can.” The diatribe goes on for a page, debasing the traditional reasons for reading (such as the desire to find a “bosom buddy” in the author’s voice, or “your own image reflected” in the text), giving readers every reason to toss away expectations (“Who cares what you expect, anyway? Whatever it is, you’re going to be disappointed”) along with the book itself. Although the narrator is put off by these attacks, he believes that there is a secret message hidden in these lines. Determined to uncover this secret, he employs every analytic method he can think of-from Oulipian techniques, to extracting the first letter of each sentence, to reading the pages aloud in the bathtub-yet he is foiled at every turn, a situation that only increases his frustration. In addition, a number of facts about his life come to light and create an equally captivating secondary plot. Slowly, a conspiracy surrounding the volume starts to develop. Reminiscent of If on a winter’s night a traveler, Bénabou’s novel is extremely compelling, even though it constantly forces its readers to question their motives for reading. Steven Rendall’s translation is superb, and Warren Motte’s introduction is an enlightening look at one of France’s top writers.