Cover of The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?
Well, here I go: my first book review. Jeepers!
Anyway, a book I have been dipping in and out of, and have been reading in a reasonably chronological order (not as easy as it sounds in this case) is The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell. What makes the book special? It is made entirely of questions.
Yep, you read right. Just questions and queries, without a single answer, for a considerable amount of pages. When I originally bought the book, I had no intention of buying it, and had not even heard of its author (who, by the way, wrote Edisto which was nominated for the American Book Award way back in 1984), never mind the work itself. However, it was the iconic front cover design which drew me in, which consisted of a seemingly confused man holding a dauntingly red question mark amidst the white background in which it lies. Curious, I walked over to the place where it stood and picked up a copy. I was instantly hooked.
The mere idea of a novel written with countless questions bewildered me, and, after reading it, you realise the sheer technical ability of the author. The fact is that the concept of this book shouldn’t work, and shouldn’t be published; it’s only Powell’s amazing ingenuity which keeps it going. Indeed, in this case at least, I would be more willing to describe the author as an inventor or, perhaps more fittingly, a wordsmith compared with the terms artist or writer. It is a construction of interconnected questions, which depend on each other to make sense while keeping their random-like feel. Without this sense in the chaos, the book may still be readable, but barely remarkable in its flow, perhaps even the work of a child. Powell, however, retains this.
In fact, he does so in such a way as to explore the depths of modern culture and humanity to a microscopic level, bringing up thoughts and matters which needed such an arousing. I mean, as to take a question from the top of my head, where do you stand in relation to the potato? OK, admittedly that wasn’t the best example of his soul-searching, but instead a showing of his absurd surrealism which is deployed during the work, which are just as important as any of the other questions. Indeed, from the vast plains to the tiniest molecules, Powell leaves nothing untouched, and an interestingly strange section of questions concerned on the matter of what you would say if Jimi Hendrix suddenly offered to play some guitar to you was one of my favourite parts, and the narrator (or should I say questioner?) was a character which you could really connect with thanks to his flaws.
In short, this is a great book. A grand machine of a novel, with great mechanisms and tiny intricacies, it truly shows the work of a technical expert, mastering what seemed to be the impossible by taking the 2nd-person narrative (a rarely used mechanism in itself) to the extreme. I mean, who said inventiveness was gone? Because, whoever did, Padgett Powell just proved them wrong.