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The Inner Side of the Wind, or The Novel of Hero and Leander.

Playfully inventive, Milorad Pavic's newest novel, his third, again a novel of the unique sort, one needing characteristic "directions" - it may be read from the front cover (Hero's story) or, if one flips the book, from the back (Leander's) - is not in fact a concept that is original. The narrative technique of using two equal parts for a duple book, bound back to back, was done before, and in my opinion more successfully, in 1973 by Earl Rovit in his novel Crossings, a tale of nineteenth-century adultery in Connecticut, where one part is a woman's secret diary, the other her minister husband's journal. Pavic's surprisingly unsatisfying novel, only obliquely paralleling the myth of the title figures, is a love story in merely the vaguest way, with the characters updated, one from the turn of the eighteenth century and the other from the early twentieth. Both live in Belgrade.

What we have are two discrete moral fables that coalesce in only a selfconsciously artful, if you will, but contrived way. Leander's is a picaresque adventure. He's a naif of sorts, an illiterate stonecutter who in his travels meets all kinds of grotesques. Hero is a struggling university student, born in 1910, who has literary ambitions and survives by doing translations into which she works her own fiction. While each has affairs, there is no sense of romantic urgency or need for each other suggested in the novel, and only in the most thimblerigged way do we have a link between the two. Pavic sets out to have more fun with, forgive the paradox, the whole concept of halves - it's a book about halves - and bold and insightful gnomic pronunciamenti ("they lived on water and death"; "That kind of neck attracts a woman's hand"; etc.), of which the book is filled and to me are the book's, or books', best parts. There are wonderfully memorable passages, Felliniesque scenes, a wonderful mind at work, and marvelous sentences, but it doesn't live up to his other books, not by half.
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Author:Theroux, Alexander
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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