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Hes showboating againComing SoonJohn BarthAtlantic Books 1499 pp448Calling John Barth self-conscious is about as helpful as calling Kafka odd The highly wrought games and puzzles of the postmodern novel Barth helped invent are already self-parodic Barth writes double-helix narratives in which the tangled tango of life and art always threatens to spiral dizzily out of controlThe plot of a Barth novel is never easy to summarise because writing is the story process as content as his narrator says Barth has made a career out of chasing his own tale as it were and Coming Soon his first book in 10 years and he suggests perhaps his last is no exceptionThis bravura novel is appropriately about showboating It revisits Barths first novel The Floating Opera 1956 which used the Show Boat of Edna Ferbers bestselling novel as a metaphor for the book itself which floats Barth explained willy-nilly on the tide of my vagrant prose Showboating - the love of the tour de force - is also Barths narrative protocol The floating opera as a metaphor for narrative and for life so pleased Barth that he returned to it again in Once Upon A Time A Floating Opera 1994Now Barth returns to the beginning to reorchestrate The Floating Opera as The Original Floating Opera II Like most of Barths novels Coming Soon features a character who mirrors Barth himself a Novelist Emeritus recently retired from Johns Hopkins University awaiting inspiration from his muse and musing on the vagaries of inspirationThis time Barth has endowed his alter ego with a Doppelgnger a young Novelist Aspirant named Johns Hopkins Johnson who has decided to compete with his mentor by borrowing the idea of the older writers first novel also called The Floating Opera and reinventing it Writing becomes a wrestling match - or in Barths own metaphor a pissing contest Novelist Aspirant challenges Novelist Emeritus as they urinate together Here is NE considering whether he will accept
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