Confessions of a Clay Man
Brandl & Schlesinger, $26.95 pb, 188 pp
The Russian theorist Yuri Lotman said: ‘Plot is a way of understanding the world.’ On this basis, texts with plots – novels, for example – do more for us than texts without plots. The telephone book, for example, a plotless text par excellence, may promote aspects of communication, but adds little to our attempt to make sense of life. However, Igor Gelbach, a Georgian Russian now living in Melbourne, has challenged this concept with his thought-provoking but virtually plotless novel, Confessions of a Clay Man, which may be narrative in shape but is highly poetic in procedure. At first reading, it is rather mystifying, the story so fabulised that you tend to lose it and concentrate on the word-pictures, which manage to make a completely unknown place hauntingly evocative, as though you had once dreamed about it. Like Goethe’s ‘Land wo die Zitronen blühn’, we can’t know it, but we feel as though we do. Gelbach’s seaside town resonates with a similar, impossible familiarity.