The Pequod Review:
Alessandro Baricco's Mr. Gwyn (published together with its more fractured companion novella Three Times at Dawn) is a tribute to the power of the written word. The story begins in London, where a successful 43-year-old novelist (Jasper Gwyn) makes an unexpected announcement in The Guardian that he will stop writing books. Gwyn's retirement leaves him seeking new creative outlets and he finally settles on becoming a "copyist," which involves sitting with an individual subject for a month and composing what he calls "writing portraits." These portraits, while private, are well-received by their subjects — at least until one of them makes a surprising discovery that changes the course of the novel. I don't want to spoil the details but the story unfolds in a surreal and unpredictable way, and Baricco uses it to focus on the tenuous nature of art and life:
[H]e was in a situation known to many humans, but not therefore less painful: that which alone makes them feel alive is something that is, slowly, fated to kill them. Children, for parents; success, for artists; mountains too high, for mountain climbers.
"Jasper Gwyn taught me that we aren’t characters, we’re stories,” said Rebecca. “We stop at the idea of being a character engaged in who knows what adventure, even a very simple one, but what we have to understand is that we are the whole story, not just that character. We are the wood where he walks, the bad guy who cheats him, the mess around him, all the people who pass, the color of things, the sounds.”
This is gripping and very well-written novel that works on multiple levels — as both an entertaining story about a troubled novelist and a deeper analysis of art, fame, memory and human connection. Great stuff.