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A glimpse into the mind of a fiction writer
14 Dec 2011
Moira Lovell

IN The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories, Ivan Vladislavicć shares with readers a number of case studies, taken from his notebooks of the last twenty years, of stories imagined but unwritten or begun but ­unresolved. The publication is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a writer of fiction and should be of interest to all those who write, have aspirations to write, or are simply intrigued as to how stories are conceived and developed.

The collection takes its title from the central surreal piece, The Loss Library, in which Vladislavicć imagines a ghostly library stocked with books that have never been written. It has sections devoted to the later works of those who have died young; to works unwritten because the authors have lost faith in their projects; to works frittered away in conversation instead of being committed to writing; and to those elusive pieces which, inspired in dreamtime, etherealise on waking.

While this central piece reads as a wittily written text about unwritten texts, the remaining ten pieces present specific examples of Vladislavicć’s own uncommenced or incomplete material. For each, he provides a possible reason as to why the work remains unresolved.

Sometimes, the problem lies with a chosen character. The Last Walk, stimulated by a photograph of Swiss writer, Robert Walser, dead in an expanse of snow, stalls as a story of the last thoughts of a writer, when Vladislavicć realises that Walser, who had not written for the last twenty years of his life, cannot be the authentic subject of his story. His thoughts of writing the views of the wife ( Mrs B) of an American naturalist, regarding a given herpetological expedition, falter when he finds both husband and wife particularly unappealing personalities.

Sometimes a self-imposed formula proves too daunting (Gross) or unyielding (Dictionary Birds). Perhaps the nature of the original stimulus is misleading (Gravity Addict; Mouse Drawing). Or a piece conceived as a short story becomes so convoluted that it has the makings of a novel – even a trilogy (Frieze). It may be that a trunk of donated papers is too burdensome (Mr T) and that a confided idea proves to be forbidden territory (The Cold Storage Room).

Vladislavicć is one of South Africa’s most innovative, thought-provoking writers. This slim publication offers considerable insights into the complex and compulsive routes pursued by the creative mind — terminal though those routes may sometimes be.

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