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Houman Barekat on Jonathan Gibbs

At Full Stop, Houman Barekat reads Jonathan Gibbs’ The Large Door as a knowing throwback to a kind of novel swept away by postmodernism:

There is a tongue-in-cheek ambiguousness about the humor that pervades this book, a flamboyant esprit that borders on camp. Take, for example, this description of Jenny’s ex-girlfriend, for whom she retains a strong residual affection: “When she wanted to, Frankie could sound as deeply compelling, as deeply true, as a Jesus from a Bach Passion. She was operatic in her tendency.” The narrator who would describe a character as operatic in their tendency is nothing if not operatic in their tendency. At one point, Jenny is horrified at the thought that Jaap might be sleeping with one of his students, Mysha, not because she is his student but because she isn’t very bright: “To sleep with Mysha would be a desecration of the unspoken, unformulated contract not between teacher and pupil, but between knowledge and the world.”

Reading The Large Door elicited in this reader a pang of nostalgia for a certain type of twentieth century English novel — the sort that saunters along on its merrily ironical way, sweeping you up in the comforting nonchalance of its spry wit and clipped assuredness. It is worth unpacking this response, and the slippery assumptions about cultural currency that underly it.