The Loss Library

In this unusual text, a blend of essay, fiction and literary genealogy, Vladislavić explores the problems and potentials of the fictions he could not bring himself to write. Drawing from his notebooks of the past twenty years, he records a range of ideas for stories – unsettled accounts, he calls them, or case studies of failure – and examines where they came from and why they eluded him. In the process, he reveals some of the principles that matter to him as a writer, and pays tribute to some of the writers – Walser, Perec, Sterne, DeLillo – who have been important to him as a reader.
      At the heart of the text, like a brightly lit room in a field of debris, stands the Loss Library itself, the shelves laden with books that have never been written. On the page, the books tell us, every loss may yet be recovered.

Loss LibraryUmuziThe Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories
Umuzi, 2011
ISBN 978-1-4152-0162-6

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Loss LibrarySeagullThe Loss Library
with illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee
Seagull Books, 2012
ISBN 978-0-8574-2012-1

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People give me their papers. The reason is obvious: I hoard such enormous quantities of my own. My house looks like a public library or some archive of the ordinary; I cannot get rid of a book or throw away a receipt from Pick n Pay. What difference will another little stack of documents make? I am like an animal lover who gets a reputation for taking in strays. Need a home for a scrawny kitten, a lame dog, a blind parrot? Don’t take it to the SPCA – they’ll put it down as soon as you’re out the door – give it to him. The book lover.

      Of course, there’s more to it than storage. These papers are entrusted to me, placed in my care and assigned as my responsibility. People put their papers in my hands because they want me to read them, think about them, edit them or otherwise reorder them, and write about them. They would like me to make something of their leavings.

      More than twenty years ago, Louis Fehler (not his real name) left me his papers to look after while he went abroad, travelling light, and then promptly died. I’ve been carrying his blue trommel around with me ever since, packed with outlines of novels, biographical notes and other things, and have yet to squeeze more than a few lines of prose from them.

      The case of Dr T is much worse. I came by his trunks ten years ago shortly after he passed away. I brought this burden on myself. I’d had my eye on his disjecta membra (the lovely Latin for ‘severed limbs’) for years before he died, and when I was offered a look inside the caskets by his guardian and heir, I more or less insisted on taking them over, voetstoots.

Hedley Twidle on The Loss Library and other things
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