A slim but powerful work of metafiction by a Nobel Prize-winning French writer and intellectual.
André Gide is the inventor of modern metafiction and of autofiction, and his short novel Marshlands shows him handling both forms with a deft and delightful touch. The protagonist of Marshlands is a writer who is writing a book called Marshlands, which is about a reclusive character who lives all alone in a stone tower. The narrator, by contrast, is anything but a recluse: He is an indefatigable social butterfly, flitting about the Paris literary world and always talking about, what else, the wonderful book he is writing, Marshlands. He tells his friends about the book, and they tell him what they think, which is not exactly flattering, and of course those responses become part of the book in the reader’s hand. Marshlands is both a poised satire of literary pretension and a superb literary invention, and Damion Searls’s new translation of this early masterwork by one of the key figures of twentieth-century literature brings out all the sparkle of the original.
“I don’t understand a single thing in Marshlands. Did I write the book?” —André Gide
“. . . there’s something compelling in Gide’s perception that all of us are trapped, regardless of the pandemic, in some kind of lifelong lockdown, the days essentially featureless, relieved only by trivialities like our meaningless work, our predictable cultural products and our irrelevant public affairs.” —Ken Kalfus, The New York Times Review
“The mistake would be to call André Gide the prophet of everything that followed him. . . He is at the same time hard to take seriously and hard to fathom, difficult to trust and impossible not to admire. He is astounding, confounding. . . .Gide himself defies categorization: too modernist for the belle époque scholars, too realist (or too postmodern?) for the modernist ones, too communist for his mid-career contemporaries, not communist enough for his late ones. To paraphrase Ugrešić, who has written the introduction to the new translation of Gide’s 1895 Marshlands, whatever Gide is, he is also more than that.” —Ben Libman, The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Marshlands is one of the few books I would rewrite word for word as my own, if I could.” —Dubravka Ugresic
“Gide’s 1895 novel Marshlands . . . in the lightest, most Parisian way foreshadows the 20th-century preoccupation with intertextuality, books-within-books, perilously shifting levels of reality and the blurring between genres—between autobiography and fiction, for instance, or essay and récit.” —Edmund White, London Review of Books
“Marshlands is an odd book, audaciously experimental for its time and uncommonly well suited to ours. . . . [Marshlands is] autofiction’s progenitor and irreverent masterwork. . . a sendup of writing itself, encompassing the futility, arrogance, and alienation that make up the strange impulse to see one’s thoughts in print.” —Nolan Kelly, Hyperallergic
About the Author
André Gide (1869–1951) was a prolific author of novels, short stories, poetry, plays, travel writing, and autobiography. Though he entered the world of letters as a prominent figure in the symbolist movement, Gide later turned toward a more confessional and exploratory form, ruminating on questions of morality, sexuality, desire, religion, and the nature of the self in his work. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947.
Damion Searls has translated eleven books for NYRB Classics, including Uwe Johnson’s four-book novel Anniversaries (published in two volumes). This is his second translation of Gide’s Marshlands; he also rewrote it as “56 Water Street,” the first short story in his collection What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going.
Dubravka Ugresic is the author of seven works of fiction, including The Museum of Unconditional Surrender and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, and six collections of essays. Her most recent book is The Age of Skin: Essays. In 2016 she received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for her body of work.
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