I love the last sentence.
“What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the Levovs?”
I love the Swede Levov character.
I don’t know if I have ever identified with a fictional character (or even another real person) in the same way I identified with Levov.
(Who, whether coincidentally or by design, is a literary alter ego of sorts to the Rabbit Angstrom character.)
As a reader, I like this book.
But the way this book is written makes no sense.
You start out with I guess what is really a Prologue, narrated by a writer, Nathan Zuckerman, who knew Swede Levov as a kid. Paints an external impression of him. Thinks Levov is going to ask him to write a biography, (which he has no interest in doing). Then finds out he has died. And, at the same time, discovers something about Levov that makes him change his mind (about whether he might be interested in doing a biography).
Then you have, presumably, a biography.
But it ceases to be written from Zuckerman’s perspective. Both in the sense that it depicts things which Zuckerman could have never discovered, and in the sense that it’s not written in Zuckerman’s voice.
And then the book ends at a perfect place if you had just told the story from the beginning, but long before the “end” from Zuckerman’s point of view.
You either write the whole thing from Zuckerman’s perspective. Or you write the whole thing as a biography. Or, I guess, you come up with some credible construct for doing both.
Why, you ask?
Because, otherwise, it’s cheating.
What are you taking about? you ask. Cheating? What do you mean, cheating? This is a novel. You can do whatever you want. There are no rules.
Well, in a sense, sure.
But isn’t that the whole challenge?
You start with a blank slate, of course. No rules.
But then if the author allows himself or herself to do basically anything, how do you know whether he or she “succeeds”?
If you, as Jackson Pollock, reject “the accident”, then how do you know what’s good?
Are some “accidents” better than others?
Language. Character. Plot. Voice. Revelation. Philosophy.
But you seem to be walking in an “analog” world. Where everything is just a matter of degree. And largely a matter of taste.
It’s only by setting up rules – i.e. not a pre-defined or pre-determined set of rules that the author inherits, but a set of rules that the author himself or herself creates – and then developing language, character, plot, voice, revelation and philosophy within those confines, that one can truly quantify literary success.
At least that’s the only way I can do it.