Stuff and Nonsense: Nightwood



She was gracious and yet fading, like an old statue in a garden, that symbolizes the weather through which it has endured and it not so much the work of man as the work of wind and rain and the herd of the seasons, and though formed in man's image is a figure of doom.

A preface by Jeanette Winterson! An introduction by T.S. Eliot! I approached Nightwood with high hopes ... and they were cruelly dashed against a wall of dull and impenetrable text. The novel begins with the birth of Felix, jumps ahead thirty-odd years, introduces us to circus people, introduces us to the "doctor," and then (finally! on page 38!) we meet Robin Vote. But do we? The obfuscated prose is so dominated by Felix and the "doctor" that I was unsure how to "read" Robin except as a nervy woman who should never have married or, heaven help them all, had a baby.

And then we meet Nora ... and I just gave up. Skipped ahead to the last two chapters, mumbled "what?" a lot to myself, and put the novel aside.

Basically, I'm just smart enough to know I'm not smart enough to appreciate Nightwood. I'm sure, for the right reader, it's phenomenal. However, it left me feeling as if I'd spent the evening battering my head against a wall.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (New Directions, 2006)

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