The Way Home — Reviews of both editions

The Complete Review, 2000.


From the Reviews:

  • “Exuberance, anguish, and imagination-in-desperation are all attributes of the speaker in Mathews — a distinctive personality who somehow exceeds the neutral voice, blunt significations, and considerable formal and material constraints that the author chooses to work under (as the only active American in the Oulipo). ” – Joseph Tabbi, Review of Contemporary Fiction

The Complete Review‘s review:

The Way Home is an excellent introduction to the life and work of Harry Mathews. The varied and relatively short pieces are accessible and interesting — it is a fine collection.
The first piece is perhaps the most striking. Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double) is, as the title suggests, a cooking recipe. Serves thirteen. The elaborate and complicated lamb recipe is, of course, also literally a farce double (so also the French name of the dish). Mathews has fun in his presentation of this fantastical (and quite tasty sounding) dish. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether or not to try it out for themselves.
The Way Home is a story drawn around black and white drawings by Trevor Winkfield, an interesting exercise in the combination of text and illustration. Mathews’ controlled style (and absurdist imagination) make for an interesting little piece.
Singular Pleasures, Mathews’ elaborate masturbatory sequence is always welcome, a good change of pace. (See our separate review of this text.)
One of the highlights of the volume is Mathews’ remembrance of Georges Perec, The Orchard. Jotting down remembrances of his friend and translator Perec Mathews eventually collected a fair number of sentences describing the man. All in the form of: “I remember …”, these are brief and lasting memories of the man, touching both the significant and the incidental. It is warm portrait of a man he obviously felt deeply for, and offers a marvelous insight into the great French writer. (Perec had published a book of such personal reminiscences in 1978, Je me souviens, which he dedicated to Mathews, and The Orchard is a fitting posthumous response.)
Translation and the Oulipo: The Case of the Persevering Maltese is a lecture that offers an interesting perspective on the problem of translation. It seems, initially, a not very promising avenue to explore. As Mathews admits:

The Oulipo certainly can’t help in any obvious way. Unless he wanted to sabotage his employer, an editor would be mad to employ an Oulipian as a translator.

(We leave aside for the moment the obvious point on everyone’s lips: that, in questions of translation, editors tend to be madder still, that sabotage seems to be the whole point of translation for most editors, at least those employed by American publishers.) In fact, as Mathews shows, the Oulipo, with its rules and requirements, is an excellent vehicle for considering and understanding the difficulties as well as the possibilities of translation. A significant and important essay, it deserves a much larger audience.
The Venetian palimpsest, Armenian Papers, is an interesting poetical experiment inspired by a lost manuscript from the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro.
Of particular interest is also the Autobiography which gives a good deal of background to Mathews’ life. While relatively short and fairly selective in its details, it nevertheless tells a great deal about the author. Centering around his family and friends and his complex relationships with them it also follows Mathews’ career, influences, and the path leading to his becoming a writer. An entertaining and useful account.

A very useful volume, offering a great variety of Mathews’ work, The Way Home is highly recommended as an introduction to this author.

Terrible Work, Autumn 2000.