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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1674- Ernest Vincent Wright: Gadsby

If you've heard of Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadbsy it's most likely as a novelty book owing to the fact that it has over 50,000 words none of which contain the letter e. I've been curious about it for quite some time as I have long been of fan of poets like Christian Bok and the Oulipo who set up arbitrary constraints for themselves yet were still able to create works of art. Does Gadbsy have any artistic merit then or is it merely a gimmick?

First off, when I say "merely" I cannot pretend that this wasn't a lot of work. It is quite amazing that Wright was able to pull it off. (50,000 words is about 157 pages, by the way.) While I did begin to notice certain tricks he used (such as writing a lot of lists, for instance of zoo animals that did not contain e), I remained impressed. I only briefly entertained the idea of writing this post without any e's before I appreciated once again how difficult this must have been. No the!

As for whether or not it's truly art, I suppose that's too subjective to really answer but assuming quality factors into the assessment, I can at least speak to that. Without the e gimmick, I don't think this is an altogether enjoyable book. It does have a consistent voice (slightly pretentious but with a wry sense of humour) and there's a plot of sorts (Gadsby recruits the ideas and energy of youth to help build a remarkable city), but it tends to get boring. There is an antagonist but he does very little to prevent anything and therefore the book essentially lacks any real conflict. It's also sexist at times, stereotyping gender roles and diminishing the contributions of females. I suppose the pro-youth message is at least a little uplifting, especially in light of all of the current anti-millennial sentiment out there-- unless, of course, you're female, then the book would be far less uplifting.

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