The Shape of Things

Patagonian priests pray by it, Chilean miners cherish it, and Brazilian beach-bums beat drums in its honour. They mull over it in Mexico, praise it in Peru and argue for it artfully in Argentina.

I am talking, of course, about the octagonal novel: the most exciting thing to hit the South-American literary world since Lupez Lupez wrote a novel on a football and kicked it through a publisher’s window.

Why the octagon? I know not. All I do know is that the shape seems to have its followers. ‘Novels will never be the same again,’ wrote one Bolivian critic. ‘Forget the four-sided book,’ sneered another: ‘any self-respecting story these days is safely printed on eight-sided paper’.

Over in Venezuala that may well be the case. But here in Europe we entertain different ideas. Eight-sided novels have yet to take off – but that isn’t to say we aren’t experimenting shape-wise. Circular novels have been doing the rounds for some decades now. Remember Benjamin Yodek’s Mulberries and Mudcakes? That has to stand as one of the most headache-inducing novels of the last hundred years (speaking as one who has a penchant for difficult forms). And what about Boris Bash-Benver’s triangular novel Tripulation? I say triangular – and yet, of course, the book revolved around three circles in a triangular formation. It was, in that sense, multi-shaped.

What of the future? I have heard vague rumblings that Oa Aayorta (Andorran master of strange forms) has abandoned his plans for a ‘twitter-novel’ (praise each and every lord) and is turning his attention to the trapezium (or ‘trapezoid’ as the Americans call it). Over in Norway, meanwhile, Edmund Ek has (apparently) been musing over pentagons. His ex-wife Heidi Kohlenberg claims to have received a long-winded letter from the former firebrand in which he recounts a dream wherein ‘a man flew down from the sky upon a plate of burning food, and said to me: “put the words within the pentagon”‘. Some would take this to have some relation to the headquarters of US defence; Ek has clearly taken it to refer to a pentagon-shaped book. Good on him.

That leaves us with various options. Am I the only one rooting for the heptagon? I can’t think of many books that wouldn’t benefit from being printed on seven-sided paper. Don’t ask me why. Call me a prophet if you will, but part of me can’t help perceiving that this, truly, is the shape of things to come.

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