An anti-novel – it seems from some cursory research – is a fictional work that in some way evades or opposes the traditional elements of a novel, thus undermining the reader’s expectations. If this is the case, then The Plagiarist (by Christopher Nosnibor, released by Clinicality Press) most certainly fits into that category.
From the blurb you might expect something surreal and confusing, but The Plagiarist goes far beyond the normal levels of weird. Within the books pages you will find thousands of fragmented narrative pieces, ranging from short snippets of fiction, to scrambled copies of spam emails; snatches of dialogue; MySpace comments and extracts from all manner of printed materials. Throughout it all recur the characters of The Plagiarist and Ben, the latter quite literally “lost in a blizzard of information”.
There is little in the way of a clear thread of a story to be followed. Various themes recur throughout, and are explored through the arrangement of a loose collection of bizarre ephemera. Pages of nonsense give way to nuggets of fiction, which are in turn interspersed with adverts for viagra or mixed-up paragraphs from an instruction manual.
The Plagiarist is, by its own admission, an anti-novel, and thus the mindset one might approach an ordinary work of fiction with is less useful here. After struggling for a consistent narrative for ten or twenty pages I found myself starting to skip back and forth though the book, picking up on certain more interesting segments and skimming over others. It reminded me of the way one might look at a painting – absorbing the whole while shifting focus from detail to detail.
In terms of actual content The Plagiarist is at its best when it makes the most sense. There are many fascinating fragments to read; bits and pieces copied or inspired by our lives in the information age. But most of these are submerged in a swamp of nonsense. Here’s an example of one of the less sensical paragraphs:
“The ailed working later than anticipated – how, which frequently time – however hard he worked, and however he budgeted – hid to the premise – however long one aver closely he worked – taking, double it and add ten percent – anticipates something, estimate. Then there was the matter – a more accurate, a good day – or a weekend – it would be a drive home.”
Though these segments provide texture to the book, their presence is often overwhelming. Much like the protagonist, Ben, you may find yourself lost in a swamp of meaningless information. While this kind of narrative involvement is neat in theory, in practice it wears thin fairly quick.
The book raises some interesting ideas about plagiarism, and the themes that run throughout are rendered well by the fragmented narrative. Overall, whether or not you’ll enjoy The Plagiarist depends on how prepared you are to accept the idea of an anti-novel. If you’re not completely on board with chucking out the narrative then you’ll find the Plagiarist frustrating and tiresome. On the other hand, if you can make yourself go along with it, you’ll find a weird, dense, confusing book with a feel much akin to a file bulging with scavenged and carefully arranged artifacts of the information age.