It isn't right, you know. You know it simply isn't right that authors like Albert Vigoleis Thelen and Christine Brooke-Rose (I could add many others) vanish under the surging seas of Dreck generated by authors who need not be named - they know who they are, anyway; deep down, they know...don't they?
Brooke-Rose chose to strongly limit the potential readership of this book in three important ways. First, the characters of her book are all taken from classic works of literature, and to fully understand what they are saying and doing in this book you need to know what they said and did in the originals.
Not satisfied with this hurdle, Brooke-Rose has the characters speaking in their original languages, some of the time.(*) So one must read German, some French and a little Spanish and Italian. Not to despair, though, because over 95% is written in English,(**) and I think even if you don't know the languages, you can pretty well figure out what is said from the rest of the text.
The third hurdle is her use of postmodern literary techniques. That is becoming less of a problem currently, but in 1991, when the book appeared, these toys/tools were even less familiar to the reading public than they are now.
But I wasn't willing to let these little problems dissuade me. So I enjoyed the incongruity of all the characters, still dressed in their native garb, perched together in their cheap charter flight to Atlanta, where they must deal with passport formalities and then wait, chatting and flirting and watching Atlanta/Moscow/Troy/Carthage/Peter Kien's library/etc. burn outside the waiting room windows, for their connecting flight to San Francisco, so that they may attend the Annual Convention of Prayer for Being. [Side note: I still remember my junior high school English teacher complaining about the clock tower in Julius Caesar . Brooke-Rose makes joyful play with anachronisms in this book.]
And it is there at the Convention that the characters meet to address the existential problem: Without the Reader, there is (almost) no existence. Not only literary characters, but characters from movies and comic books throng the halls of the Convention to deal with this uncomfortable fact and to "pray for existence." This book is that Prayer for Existence, and I well understand why a GRamazon friend calls Brooke-Rose the "patron saint of The BURIED Book Club."
There is absolutely no hope of summarizing the "action" in this book (or anything else in it, for that matter). So I won't try. Don't worry, it really isn't necessary to catch every allusion to enjoy the book, which is largely play with incongruities of every description. It's fun, and it is the only place I've seen Peter Kien outside of Die Blendung .
So give the book a try; strike a blow for Being! Of course, you could always follow the advice of this not unrepresentative representative of the horde of eager students labing themselves at the founts of knowledge/wisdom located in our universities/diploma mills:
(Perhaps Jesus didn't weep, but I do, after nearly every lecture. At least this guy knows the subjunctive mood.)
(*) It was reported in the text that characters spoke in Latin, Greek, Yiddish, etc., but I suppose she had already exhausted her personal supply of languages by then, because they did not actually come to word. Already in the first chapter, after Goethe and Lotte had communicated in German and Emma and Leon in French, the game is abandoned: Bessian Vorpsi speaks solely in English instead of Albanian, just to mention one example. All in all, I have to say that I find this very inconsistent game with languages to be infelicitous.
(**) I was a little disappointed, to tell you the truth, because I was looking forward to write the review of this book in six languages - so very, very clever of me. I thought better of it. :)