10:04 by Ben Lerner - review by Tim Martin

Tim Martin

About an Author

10:04

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Writing this year about My Struggle, the vast autobiographical novel by the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, Ben Lerner suggested that its central question might be ‘the problem of form rising from formlessness, of how to bring order to the undifferentiated mass of experience, and the relation of that problem to death’. Reading 10:04, Lerner’s second novel, you can see why the idea appealed to him so much. This restive, rambling, neurotic piece of work – occasionally illuminating, very often trying – is not exactly a response to Knausgaard’s exhaustive act of ‘literary suicide’, but it proceeds from similar agonies and frustrations. What is the novel for? How much rearrangement does it take to turn memoir into fiction? Isn’t it dishonest to reach for the conventional satisfactions of plot? And what is honesty anyway in a form this artificial?

Lerner’s answer to these, or similar, questions is a book for which I suspect we may need a new genre, told in a narrative style somewhere between the desperate unspooling sincerities of David Foster Wallace and the self-anatomising babble of Woody Allen. Call it Twitchy Meta, perhaps. Set in New

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