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A Listing of the Holdings of the National Museum of Romance

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by Soren Narnia

To mention that A Listing of the Holdings of the National Museum of Romance is a misleading title is probably unnecessary. This is, of course, a novel, and it might at first be thought that the dry non-fiction title is purely a gimmick. Not so; within a few paragraphs of opening the book we are in the very National Museum of Romance named in the title, where our hero-narrator hopes to pick up a bargain at a charity auction. Thus we are led quickly into the story, in a narrative style that aesthetically pleases without wasting words.

I said, "story", but perhaps I mean "stories", because, as well as being a novel, this is a book of short stories, love stories that are interwoven with the narrative, the selections from the museum catalogue about which the title forewarns readers. By the end, I was not sure that it constituted a novel at all. The narrator's story is never told, only hinted at; it is the people he never sets eyes on who hold centre stage for most of the narrative.

I came across this book in much the same way many others will have done, through Soren Narnia's web site. He offers readers the opportunity to produce a deprecatory review of any of his work. The challenge is greater than one might expect, because Soren Narnia is a good writer. The reason he expects to be pilloried is that he cheats to achieve the effect he wants, leaving the reader disappointed and puzzled rather than satisfied. If you believe that the object of a novel is to tell a story from beginning to end, then he makes little attempt to succeed. If, on the other hand, you believe that the point of a novel is to bring enjoyment, or excitement, or emotion, into the life of another person, you might argue that he has achieved his aim.

Whether or not this was intended as a piece of trickery, it catches the reader's interest and our disappointment in the deliberately uninformative ending reflects that. For myself, I prefer a novel to tell a story, and I prefer that story to have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order. I would be hard pressed to tell you what A Listing of the Holdings of the National Museum of Romance is really about, but it does have characters, and action, and engages the reader. Perhaps I would have needed to be a far cleverer person than I am to appreciate its finer points; or perhaps I am pretending to be cleverer than I am in claiming to have appreciated it at all.

ISBN 0 595 302 3086
Soren Narnia, 2003
112pp, e-book

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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