Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn

August 24, 2010 at 12:00 am 4 comments

Whilst stumbling around the library looking for some Daphne du Maurier and finding more Dumas than anything else, I happened upon a wonderful author named Mark Dunn and his novel Ibid: A Life. This is a novel told entirely in footnotes. Yes really. And it’s completely brilliant.

The conceit of the novel is that Dunn sent the only copy of his next book, a biography of three-legged deodorant magnate Jonathan Blashette, to his editor who promptly and accidentally destroyed it. Dunn promises to send the notes on later, but once the editor ruins the actual text, his notes are all he has left. As a consolation, perhaps, the editor offers to publish the notes free-standing and Dunn, exhausted by the idea of rewriting a biography which took him two years to do the first time, agrees.

Thus begins one of the most original and witty contemporary novels I have had the pleasure to read in ages. Dunn’s style is like a cross between Monty Python and Susanna Clarke, a seemingly incongruous creation that is actually tremendously enjoyable. His notes vary in length and include properly cited (but entirely made-up) academic resources and random interviews with (fictional) surviving family members and people who saw Blashette down the pub once or twice.

It is difficult to describe how interesting it was to read a novel in footnotes, but it really kept my brain tingling and fully engaged. The sense of wonder that Dunn came up with this concept at all stayed with me throughout the entire book. What starts out feeling like a parlour trick that Dunn can’t possibly keep fresh for 269 pages never flags and even manages to have a surprisingly touching ending. (“Surprising” because the whole rest of the novel was so thoroughly winky.) I highly recommend this book for any fan of the footnote or anyone looking for a shake-up format in their next read. And, of course, any fan of plain good writing. Cheers to Mark Dunn for this one!



Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction. Tags: , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Em  |  August 27, 2010 at 7:02 am

    As transgressions go, this is a good one! I’m quite tempted to read it!
    Have you read Danielewski’s House of Leaves? Another book featuring extensive footnotes…

    • 2. Corey  |  September 16, 2010 at 7:10 am

      Thanks! And I’ll have to check out House of Leaves. I’m nuts for some good footnotes. :) Thanks for the rec!

  • 3. chasing bawa  |  September 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I LOVE footnotes, so maybe I should read this:) What a novel idea for a novel (I know, it’s lame). I don’t think I’ve ever come across a novel like this. Must go look for it now.

    • 4. Corey  |  September 16, 2010 at 7:10 am

      If you love footnotes already, then this is definitely a great book for you! It was SO interesting to read something with only the notes.


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