Trans. by Jeff Fort. Bison Books, 2002 (ISBN 0803261764)
Some books can be reread many times without seeing the same thing twice. Maurice Blanchot's early novel, Aminadab (1942), is one of those books. This first translation of the novel into English is a literary gem, though of course whether it should be considered a ruby, emerald or diamond is open to interpretation. Aminadab follows the story of Thomas who, after seeing someone wave to him from the upper balcony of a rooming house, enters the building to find the woman who signaled him. He is confronted at every turn by strange characters, all resigned to their situations (which is either melancholy or delightful depending on the point of view). These characters in turn weave a series of tales that build up the myth and mystery that is the house. Thomas, who soon sees himself as a tenant of the building, explores the house as best he can, as best ANYONE can considering the nebulous nature of the structure and its inhabitants.
Aminadab resembles Franz Kafka's strongest works, The Trial and The Castle, in its way of pushing the character through an absurd sequence of events that at first seems to have no coherent pattern but that develops a unique sort of lucidity as the story moves along. Aminadab, of course, proves to be one thing neither of the Kafka classics is: complete. There are no missing chapters or scenes, so the confusion caused by the narrative is entirely the author's design.
Jeff Fort, in his translator's introduction, describes Aminadab as an allegory. The novel certainly can be described as allegorical, but once again, allegorical of what exactly is a matter of perspective. In fact, the book might be read several times from several different angles, allowing one to learn different things. Fort writes that, to him, the novel is an allegory for Blanchot's view of the writer making his way in the world. Another perspective might see Thomas as the human animal wandering through life from birth to death. For me as I read, the connections I made were those of the seeker on his spiritual quest. Thomas enters with no real idea what he seeks, no reason to be there, but nothing compelling him to leave. The people he encounters offer different mythical interpretations of everything from the game room to the upper floors to the domestic staff (in fact, I kept waiting, during the long passage about the staff, to hear someone declare "The staff works in strange and mysterious ways!"). Meanwhile, waiting at the end in from of a doorway to the underworld stands the imposing figure of Aminadab, who never actually makes an appearance in the book but whose name, according to Fort, is the Hebrew word for "my people are generous."
All in all, Blanchot's second novel is a masterful twisting of the psyche. It pulls the mind one way then slaps it from behind. It distracts the eyes while the ears are tickled with a feather. This book boldly shows a French Kafka posing in the American sunlight. While the novel sometimes gets bogged down its disjointed mapping and obscure meditations that go on for pages at a time, it nonetheless reads well and is worth the effort required to make sense of it. It has its moments of brilliance and its moments of blah, but all are thought-provoking.
Recommendation: Buy the book. You may have to order it, either through a local indie store, chain, or at the Amazon.com link above. Still, consider it worth the inconvenience. Aminadab is a book to read more than once, and always with an open mind.