As restless sparrows chatter in busy British hedgerows, so do readers rant relentlessly: barely stopping for precious breath. The subject of their rants? Most recently, it has been Luigi Narsceni’s work, Toys: A Memoir of Me and My Many Works in Progress. Now is the time for me to plunge my hand into the hedge and spring a couple of ‘w’s: what is it about Narsceni’s book that has got us all het up? And, perhaps most importantly, why has it got so many defenders?
First up, I should point out that it was self-published. Oh vanity, self-publishing is thy name! But times are changing, are they not? Or perhaps they aren’t. In any case, self-publishing has always offered the opportunity for the truly maligned, or merely well-off, to get their work into the world without the hassle of the sinister go-between (damn that go-between!) And good for it. Would a publisher have accepted Toys? I like to think that Upside-Down-Then-Backwards, in sunnier times, might have done so. Others? I doubt it. So: does this mean that Narsceni is unfairly maligned or merely well-off? Has he a ‘difficult talent’, or is he just a self-indulgent idler?
It’s hard to say, for his financial situation is part and parcel to his talent. He has never completed anything, perhaps, because he lacks the will financially speaking. And yet he has the talent, certainly. He can write. Just not all the way to the end.
All of this, however, takes for granted the fact that Count Narsceni is telling us the truth; that this really is a collection of stories to which he sought to, but simply could not complete, rather than a collection of deliberately designed unfinished tales. What is the difference? Again, it’s hard to say. What I can say, yet, is that Toys presents the incomplete narrative in a manner previously unseen. It argues, unconsciously, for a reconsideration of the unfinished work as an important genre in itself: as a source not just of curtailed, abandoned fiction, but of work that is, in itself, great. Throughout Toys, Narsceni toys (excuse me) constantly with the idea that he is a failed novelist; in fact, he is a successful unfinished short-story writer. Toys is not a series of tragic un-happenings, but a treasure-trove of possibilities; of joyous beginnings, gloriously unhampered by tedious middles and leaden endings. It is, thus, tantalising, inspiring: endlessly stimulating. Better, in parts, than a thousand finished books.