My friend’s novel is, unfortunately, mediocre

I didn’t expect to get any mileage at all out of Voyage Along the Horizon, a relatively minor work. I assumed it would be a curiosity to alternate with the more traditional English and American narratives of life aboard ship. And it turned out to be curious. It actually had so many unexpected things in common with the other narratives, and so many other things unexpectedly different.*

As a little diversion, it is really pretty good. A somewhat negative point is that it’s really one of these novels about “storytelling.” Just, you know, how many can we do? Victor Arledge, a writer, reaches his ruin by obsessing over a story. It gets so meta Arledge actually lies and tells Bayham he would like to write a novel about the kidnapping because he thinks it might convince Bayham to spill.

The inner-Voyage Along the Horizon is in appropriately stilted prose, and it’s not exactly clear that it’s a good book. I was beginning to suspect it was not when, within the span of two pages, various passengers on the Tallahassee, headed toward Antarctica, were described as “cold,” “icy,” and even “glacial” (!). Javier Marías might not think it’s very good either.

Mr. Branshaw has been the novel’s champion for years, but after reading it aloud to the narrator is completely disenchanted and no longer believes it should even be published.

And it may even be possible that Voyage Along the Horizon is in fact a very respectable novel, but then what is ‘respectable’ compared to the destiny I had envisioned for it? A terrible disappointment, I can assure you. No, no—please do not interrupt me. I am telling you the truth. My friend’s novel should never be published and should never have been read or listened to by anyone other than myself.

Wait a minute. The novel we just read isn’t worth reading? The novel we are reading right now isn’t worth reading?

The narrator actually thinks it was. He remains impressed by Voyage Along the Horizon even years later, though, amusingly, thinks Victor Arledge’s work inferior, which “made me wonder why Mr. Branshaw’s friend had dedicated his life and fortune to learning the motive that could have driven such an unexceptional author to abandon his literary vocation.”

So, to recap: why did the friend bother writing it, why did Branshaw bother trying to publish it, and why did we bother reading it? I halfway feel someone’s played a joke on me.

*Also curious, I believe this is the first piece of Spanish literature I have ever read. How is that possible?

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