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I made a terrible mistake whilst reading Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel. I had received it the same day as Blake Butler’s latest, Alice Knott. Amazon had supplied my Covid relief package, my portal away from pandemic paranoia. Butler has long been a favourite, but the Kaufman had me overwhelmingly curious – a first novel by the guy who brought us Being John Malkovich? It was Antkind first. However, as others have noted, Antkind is a long (705 pages) and unwieldy tome and, at times, laborious and repetitious. At around the 350-page mark, and after what felt like the 100th falling-down-a-manhole (sorry, a ‘personhole’ as Kauffman’s would be politically correct narrator continually reminds us) joke, Alice Knott seemed to beckon with increased urgency. Just have a taste of the first page, I thought, and whoosh, like falling into a Malkovich portal, Butler’s book utterly subsumed me. I returned to Antkind, shaken and somewhat bloodied, a week later, but it had been a terrible mistake to make – Alice Knott was an adrenalin rush laced with cocaine. Antkind is another beast altogether. Intriguingly both books are about displacement, mind-slippage, memory distortion and alienation – all too apt in this day and age (and versions of Trump-phobia and pandemics creep into both). But where Butler’s 304-page juggernaut gets to the point with urgency, Kaufman’s does so with innumerable zigs and zags, moments of true pathos and sparkling doses of Pynchonesque humour. And, like Pynchon, or even at his best, Philip K. Dick, Antkind is awash in multitudinous ideas and plot twists and bizarre characters. As a first novel, Antkind is truly something – exactly what I have yet to quantify – just don’t do what I did, which was unfair to Kaufman. Read both books most certainly, but keep them at separate ends of the house.
I was alerted to the release of this book by a comment on my Facebook Thomas Pynchon fan group. It was basically highly sceptical of some critic's claim that this book made Thomas Pynchon read like Dr.Seuss. That would make it a major literary event. It doesn't and it's not. Nonetheless it is a very funny book. As critics like to say it is fiercely intelligent and, deeply humane at its root. About what you'd expect of a novel penned by the script-writer of, amongst other things, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
I was also attracted to the book by its title which promised to feed me fascination with the metaphor of insect societies for the general grotesqueries of human society. I was hoping for something like William T Vollmann's You Bright and Risen Angels, which to my mind was a major literary milestone that went unnoticed. Again it wasn't. Not a chitinous carapace in sight. But as a labyrinthine and zany plotline, involving films within dreams, within dreams, within movies, within hypnosis sessions, it certainly had echoes of Vollmann's missed masterpiece. Having said that, the whole thing is taken from the first person POV of a single central character making it not particularly challenging to follow. Unlike Pynchon where you're four pages along and you suddenly realise you've been in the head of a completely different character situated at a different place and time, and you go back to reread it, and after three attempts you're still not sure where the transition occurred.
Other reviews suggest that it's full of abstruse and obscure allusions. As a reader of Joyce and Pynchon i did not find this to be so, which i guess defines me as sadly over-educated. Most of the references are to movie directors. Reading it on the Kindle made it very easy to look up anyone's name that was unfamiliar. The pace is unrelenting and the comedy never flags or becomes repetitive, but that in itself can become exhausting with such a long book. I took time out half way through to read a biography of the rock group Soft Machine, and then returned to this without any great sense of disruption. Does it need to be quite so long? I've not quite reached the end yet so i don't know if there is a punchline or if it's just an endless recursion of shaggy dog stories. The guy has a lot to say, and he's funny so it doesn't matter.
At its essence the comedy is based on the increasing mental contortions that the privileged white male who just wants to be a decent human being has to go through to exist with some kind of dignity in the MeToo, BLM era. If there is a message then perhaps it is that sure, we all need to get 'woke'. The more the merrier. But if that's accomplished with just sanctimonious snarkinees, and without a bit of humorous self-deprecation, then we'll just end up making a world that's no better than the one we are trying to change.
Having just finished reading 'Ducks, Newburyport.' by Lucy Ellman, which is huge book with hardly any fullstops, I thought I'd read something a bit shorter, then this was released and that idea went up the chimney. I'm a big Charlie Kaufman fan (Especially 'Adaptation' and 'Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind' ) and , thankfully, this book didn't disappoint. It had full stops and everything.
I'm not going to recite the plot (mainly because I can't really, it's written by Charlie Kaufman.) lets just say if you like Kaufmans film and you like reading then you'll like this, probably.
If this doesn't win a load of awards (Pulitzer?) then I really don't know what will. Best book I've read this year and I've read a ton. I wanted to get as many in as I can before the whole world cracks down the middle like a dropped egg. But round and no yoke.
Loved it loved it loved it. Maybe a little bit too long, Charlie really isnt holding anything back here, so I'd probably say 4.5 out of 5, but I have never laughed so much and so consistently while reading a book. This is full on hilarious for a good deal of the story, which is nice because Kaufman's films, though still excellent, are getting progressively darker it seems.
Amo os filmes do Charlie Kaufman mas esse livro é péssimo! O personagem principal é um chato de galocha, com linhas de pensamento sem fim sobre assuntos imbecis. E ele é um cara a moda antiga mas ao mesmo tempo sobre preocupado em ser "woke". Chato, chato, chato!
Kaufman needs collaborators and a visionary editor. He's like the fissile material in a nuclear weapon: shaped and guided he turns vast swaths of everyday emptiness into glowing, fraught, open fields. Left on his own he indiscriminately floods us with deadly noise and sinks into a pit of radioactive slag. I absolutely respect and admire him, which is why I hate this book.
The protagonist of this novel (who would repeatedly bore you with trite linguistic and literary commentary on the terms 'protagonist' and 'novel' and then on 'terms' and imply all gestures, transactions, or equivalences are somehow corrupt) isn't an anti-hero, he is the denial of the possibility of maturity, an insistence on the inauthenticity of benevolence. With extra verbiage about racial and sexual injustice that is simultaneously so overwrought and counter to his actual choices that...
My God it tires me out. I quit 71 pages in. I love "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich". Supported "Anomalisa" on Kickstarter and watched the first ten minutes but both my wife and daughter hated it and I had to admit they quickly detected what I only reluctantly and queasily accepted: just because something accurately displays stupid small human behavior doesn't make it, well, anything.
Which brings me back to Antville. It isn't anything, so skip it. I hope Kaufman does more, and better, and floods us with light - clever, reactive, inviting and baleful, exposing potential and limitation, growth and decline. I'll still give anything (else) he does a chance.
If I wanted to read a white dude navel gazing about how fought privilege is while obsessively discussing obscure topics, I would just read reddit for free.
It really doesn’t have enough flair in the prose to make it worth reading and definitely not enough plot to make this anything more than “author takes on the perspective of someone toxic purposefully” but without any flair or a hook.
Such a shame since Kaufman is one of my favorite screenwriters.
Antkind has the most ideas I’ve ever encountered in a novel. The sheer velocity of those ideas is truly a sight to behold. It shattered my mind, but also made me laugh on almost every page. It is filled with sadness and searching observations about...everything? It’s a profoundly interior book but simultaneously one of the most expansive things I’ve ever read. Kaufman’s prose is just beautiful.
It’s bananas. I think it might be a masterpiece, actually. It’s still growing in my brain. A monumental achievement.