Reviews -- Centuria

"Those who live always in the night may experience a profound consolation, and there is also a consolation, albeit a lesser one, in living out the day. The truly arduous condition is to live, as Manganelli does, in both: to be entirely night, to be entirely day: to contemplate the night from the day's point of view, the day from the night's: to live doubly out of joint; to relinquish life by virtue of refusing to tamper with it."
-— Pietro Citati, Corriere della Sera
"I’ve just finished reading 100 books. Well, sort of. Giorgio Manganelli’s Centuria contains 100 short-short stories, each taking up only about 1 1/2 pages. What I thought would be 100 short scenes making for somewhat light reading turned out to me much more substantial and intense. Manganelli (1922 - 1990) had a mastery of language that allowed him to condense his intentions into compact storytelling, somewhat like a poet who can take a few well-chosen words to create a complete scene. The Centuria experiment proves it page after page."-- Carp(e) Libris,
"Henry an astute and imaginative translator, whose elegant and confident style gives us more than a flavour of the versatility and complexity of Manganelli's prose. Martin also allows us to appreciate Centuria's programmatically metafictional plot, based on a hundred page narrative: the 'ouroboric novels' of the subtitle. Taken by itself, each of these precious textual miniatures appears as a sophisticated and subtly disrespectful game with literary and philosophical tradition: from classical mythology to existentialist minimalism, from romantic fiction to the ghost story. Taken together, the 100 'ourobouric novels' give the impression of a vast and elaborate textual maze which lures readers into0 a never-ending search for hidden references and resemblances, but also forces them to face up to the themes that haunt Manganelli's book: illness, fear and existential despair, unhappy love and sporadic glimpses of the supernatural. The mixture may not appeal to those in search of easy reading, but Centuria earns its place among postmodern classics such as Calvino's Invisible Cities, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar and Life, a User's Manual by Georges Perec."--Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 2005
"Manganelli's imagination is unfettered by considerations of plausibility, and his skewed viewpoint is ironic and gloomy, nicely balancing the fizz and frothiness of his ideas. The precise construction of his sentences is brought into English with an award-winning translation.... Centuria contains worlds, compressed into one and a half pages, which expand the mind's eye.... Barely known to English readers, Manganelli is well treated by his publisher and by Henry Martin."--Jeff Bursey, Books in Canada
"The comparison to Calvino...may be inevitable, but it seems unfair. Calvino's later story-mosaics surprise us by depicting a world we recognize; his invisible city is late twentieth-century Rome. But Manganelli's terrific experiment elicits recognitions of another kind. It participates rather in the time-transcending gaiety that Yeats celebrates in his famous meditation on a carved scrap of blue lapis. Centuria brings together harmony and intensity, wringing creation out of closure; it can make us believe anything's possible." -- John Domini, American Book Review, Nov.-Dec., 2005
"Subtle wisdom permeates Centuria. Its 100 'novels' provoke one to laughter and exaltation, and also dismay, sadness, terror, for they suggest that what happens or could happen doesn’t; what’s probable is not; what is possible cannot be so. Consider the opening of 'novel' Sixty-Two: 'Exiting a shop into which he had entered to purchase an aftershave lotion, a middle-aged gentleman, well-mannered and serious, saw that they had robbed him of the Universe.' What next? one wonders in curiosity and dread. His is indeed a ruthless imagination." -- Jascha Kessler, California Literary Review, 1/12/06
"A member of the Gruppo '63, a group of Italian writers of experimental literature in the mid-to-late 20th century, Manganelli has been called both avant-garde and surrealistic. In Centuria the work is accessible beyond the experiment of Manganelli's often dreamlike and existential style. Each of the 100 very short tales is all-inclusive, circling back to themselves in the space of a page; hence the Ouroboros in the title, the mythological snake who eats his own tail....Martin tells us in his translator's preface that the 100 stories are 'like novels from which all the air has been removed.' Indeed, the scope contained in but a few words forms a complete work in itself; at times each story feels like part of a grand list of the possible plots of all the novels that could be written. We find a man being followed, a fateful meeting, the themes of emptiness and absence, dying with purpose, depression, a murderer by choice, mythology, kings and knights, ghosts, love requited and not, religion and war, all covered in the 100 tales."—ForeWord Magazine
"When it was first published in 1979, this collection won that year's Viareggio Prize. Neither 25 years nor English translation has diminished this Absurdist jewel. Manganelli presents the reader with 100 two-page tableaux, each featuring one or more nameless characters living actively in an intense moment. Assassins, a public toilet attendant, several men in love or aware of their lovelessness, a greedy dreamer, and even a few trolls populate these tiny but fully fleshed-out tales. The final piece presents a mathematical model for book writing itself. While this work won't appeal to those looking for mass market fiction, it is accessible and should delight both those with experience with 20th-century absurdism and younger readers new to a now bygone movement. Manganelli (1922-90), to an astonishing extent, seems to have written with foreknowledge of our current world, one in which any of us might, en route home, be 'delayed by a disagreeable downpour, a slight earthquake, and rumors of an epidemic.' What to do in such a time? Consider these stories--and Manganelli's sardonic advice to smile."—Library Journal
"Originally published in 1979, Giorgio Manganelli’s Centuria: 100 Ouroboric Novels is the kind of fiction novelists had been threatening to write since Poststructuralist thought drastically altered the landscape of literature. But if this English-language translation of an Italian text comes to readers fifteen years after the author’s death in 1990, the book’s affiliation with the aesthetic and historical mores of its time, as well as its common association with absurdist literature, are easily transcended by its rigorous intelligence and sustained structural ingenuity.-- Tony Leuzzi, Double Room, #6, Winter 2006
"A fried once pointed out the fallacy of describing narratives as circular....Manganelli might have envisioned Centuria not as circular..., but as ouroborically destructive. But it's a particular kind of destruction: as fire is cleansing, Centuria is metadestructive, immolating itself (and, by extension, its traditions), but leaving in its place something new and pure and often spellbinding."--Tim Feeney, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XXV, No. 3, Fall 2005
"Despite the short length of his 'novels,' Manganelli not only provides a great range of genres--ghost stories, love stories, tall tales, and so on--but also manages to end each story satisfyingly. His economic and essential use of language cuts to the heart of the matter, and, combined with his clever sense of humor, this makes Centuria an elegant and evocative book."--Harvey Pekar, Bookforum
"Manganelli was a voracious reader [not only of Scott, Dumas, O. Henry, Dickens, Stevenson, and D. H. Lawrence, but] also of science fiction and comic books, and has been listed—along with Calvino and Eco—among Italy's post-modern writers. His nullification of plot, his general drift toward allegory and his sudden ability to make it coalesce, his visionary sense of biography, his appreciation of the coercive and symbolic power of number, the serial nature of [Centuria's] impossible worlds may finally indeed demand a Supreme no less that totally open reader who's always on the search for a great beyond: a reader, perhaps, who has learned to expect the unreliable."
— Viola Papetti, La Rivista dei Libri, March 1996
"In 1965, at the meeting in Palermo of "Gruppo 63," Manganelli declared his repugnance for the novel, which by then he saw as a formula in decay, reduced to functioning as a vehicle for the diffusion of ideologies. Writers were always ready to convert it into an edifying message, to make it into a mirror, witness, and interpretation of the world. It's not by accident that the genre of the novel grew dominant in the nineteenth century, at a time that saw the demise of the notion of literature as artifice, and as well of the love of classical rhetoric. One attempted to force literature into a dimension—the dimension of history—that revealed itself to be inadequate, and impracticable. So, it was hardly surprising for literature to kick such traces, unredeemed. ...Manganelli was opposed to the myths of commitment: literature is only language, and thus an artificial construction, a game, a vice. It creates infinite universes since the word is fiction; and all of these worlds are equally impossible; but this connotation which all of them share also makes them alien to one another, impenetrable, without communication."— Maria Luisa Vecchi, Belfagor, January 1982
"Manganelli's special feature lies in a highly cunning mixture of the humors of intelligence, no less than in dazzling language liberally spiced with a constant flow of irony and sarcasm…. The pages of Centuria offer an almost visual presentation of the figures of Magritte or Delvaux, no less, here and there, than of scenes from the films of Charlie Chaplin." — Valerio Volpini, Letture, March 1996
"A reader who addresses a book by Giorgio Manganelli will always be perplexed... So, the best thing to do is simply to surrender to the extravagant vagaries of a refined intelligence, to the provocations of a limitless imagination as it deconstructs ideas and plays out games with words.
— M. Bernardi Guardi, Il Tempo, Rome, Jan. 13, 1996
"In Italy, Giorgio Manganelli was considered a national literary treasure. His quirkish wit, his elusive irony, his keen eye, his elegant style regularly won him praise.... Henry Martin has been able to capture and retain, in his English version, the singular qualities of Manganelli's prose. This volume will be prized for two reasons: for its intrinsic worth and seductive imagination, and for its introduction of an Italian master."
—William Weaver [translator of Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, etc.]
"Manganelli's pessimism is metaphysical and enormous, but he offers the consolation of never being lachrymose. He gives us characters and voices that are nearly always incapable of ascribing meaning to their experience, or which do so bizarrely and at profligate cost, but the very fact of experience is insistently rendered as solid and undeniable, and one is allowed to suspect that its undeniability may finally hold more value than any other value one might have thought to search for. This world is gruesomely, contortedly comic. It's clear that Manganelli isn't the kind of writer with whom it is easy to relax, and he doesn't give us the kind of writing with which one instantly falls in love. He intrigues rather than seduces. His craft is considerable, but difficult to react to simply as craft, since it is always in the service of a voice that conveys and reflects and attempts to engage with an anguish that might be equivalent to the background radiation of the cosmos. One turns to his work for a kind of therapeutic exposure to the absolute seriousness of a mind that imagines its way into archetypes of confusion and pain and hilarity with never a forethought to contriving a way back out of them."
—Henry Martin
Centuria is a sort of anthropological almanac that aims to signal—but surely not to decipher—the ambiguous hieroglyphics of the modes of human behavior, and might also be read as the catalogue of an eccentric museum of characters whose common denominator is an anti-vitalism that always hangs suspended at the edge of the void of non-action. Its fantastic cosmology is the governing power of a bizarre narrative universe where artifice, rhetoric and literary "lies" are pressed into service for the exorcism of the painful awareness of the trajectory of life's descent toward nothingness.
—Francsco Roat, L'Indice dei libri, February 1996

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