October 25, 2010 6:58 am

The Interrogative Mood

 

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, by Padgett Powell, Profile RRP£9.99, 164 pages

Written entirely in questions, Padgett Powell’s extraordinary book somehow manages to overcome a potentially gimmicky premise.

The questioner’s obsessive interrogation of the reader superficially resembles one of those long lists beloved by psychological or consumer profilers, with enquiries ranging from the banal (“When did you last have a piece of Melba toast?”) to the profound (“Will you be saddened that your life has been minor if, in fact, it has been minor?”). In that tension between high and low, the book finds its voice, one that speaks of the contradictory nature of human desires. (“Have you ever been not disappointed by a banana split?”)

But, if The Interrogative Mood is about not being able to see the wood for the trees, it’s also a celebration of the human need to understand, which makes it life-affirming. Fresh and funny, it reminded me of the work of that other playful monologuist and miniaturist, Nicholson Baker.

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