An exuberant and slightly poseurish guide to classical literature

Throughout 2019, novelist Rob Doyle wrote a weekly column for the Irish time in which he would reread a pre-21st century book he admired and write up to 340 words about it.

Autobibliography is a collection of these miniature essays, enriched with biographical ruminations. The result is a fragmented memory guided by “the books that formed me, sentimentally and intellectually … the books that are Dforming me now, and even the books that oftrained me.

While there are any tendencies to be drawn from the 52 books discussed here, the most overwhelming are a preference for non-fiction (the novels he likes tend to be those that “don’t act like novels”), and a taste for Translation books.

“The more exotic the destination, the better,” he observes, and if we are tempted to answer, for example, that none of the authors he speaks of is black, the notion that he is acts of a personal gun is a practical and integrated tool. refutation of any issues we might have with Doyle’s choices.

Doyle is outspoken about his own flaws, such as his penchant for hatred, and many of the books he speaks of deal with the misery of human behavior.

He praises the Romanian philosopher EM Cioran (“the most addictive writer I have ever met”) and his idea that God is “responsible for a” failed creation “where even suicide is not worth the effort, because he always comes too late”.

Elsewhere, he is invigorated and amused by the “hate speech” of Valérie Solanas, the radical feminist who shot Andy Warhol down in 1968, and the “cry of human perversity” that is Dostoyevsky. Metro Notes (1864) – a book which, by pulling “the boulder to uncover a festering sub-layer of society”, he writes, anticipated “the high school shooter, the incel, Mohamed Atta, Anders Breivik, the troll who hated”.

If that sounds a bit punk, then maybe it’s due to Autobibliography largely focusing on the books that shaped Doyle as a younger man.

The main one of his influences is Nietzsche, whose work of 1887 Of the genealogy of manners is described in a bravery essay as an “attempt to unleash moral Armageddon”.

Nietzsche was once “an irreproachable authority”, but for Doyle today, in his late thirties, the German nihilist feels both “strange and brilliant … myopic and dangerously deceived”.

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Readers of Doyle’s fiction will be aware of his fascination with drugs, and here he turns his foggy eyes on “improving MDMA. good nights” and “riotous festivities fueled by amphetamines”.

At one point, he lists all the substances he took: “There was cocaine, and a basement bar in La Paz… There was mescaline. There was opium in a wooden house on stilts in Laos. There was tolerance.

It all feels lightly laid down, much like a gap year, although Doyle does his best to counter that accusation by printing out what we assume is a transcript of an angry Goodreads review, describing it as “solipsist” and ” insupportable “.

Drugs may offer Doyle a “temporary escape from the brutal skull hotel of consciousness,” but his writings about them stray from the hollow wisdom of the stoner.

I can largely forgive that, however, for elsewhere Doyle’s prose is virtuoso and exuberant. When it comes to literary criticism, he likes to write that embraces the textures and ambiance of the work he describes. He did his best to imitate that here.

Angela Carter’s The bloody room (1979) presents sexual desire as “a satanic choreography”; Geoff Dyer in But beautiful (1991) “play[s] like a possessed man… reaching the sweet spot of critical insight ”.

He at one point writes that Jean Baudrillard’s writing “drips with poetic suggestion” – a description that might well apply to the best moments of this strangely captivating book.

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