My Work, Olga Ravn & Octagano Orange
by Kim Kent
A month ago
From the moment this month’s book arrived in my hands, it felt like a secret. While it had been a novel I was looking forward to for a long time, I had also forgotten about it, so much so that when I asked the publisher for an advanced copy there were none left. There were none left except for the one they sent me: a battered, well-worn copy that had been passed around the press’ staff—read, and maybe even re-read, on subways and bars and kitchen tables. And unlike buying a book from a bookstore, even a used one, there was something intimate about this exchange: my desperation to read it met with the generosity of another reader. And so the novel became my secret too. I read it in secret, as though through reading I was swept up in a “microscopic rapture” and the deliciousness of the secret, and the horror I felt while reading it, was something I became obsessed with keeping to myself. I read it at night. I read it alone. I read it quickly, and once again a few weeks later, incapable of thinking about any other books, certain that I had missed some bit of “confidential information.” And this feeling of having a secret— a book secret— delighted me, as much as it filled me with terror. It is my work, if you can call it that, to share, and until this moment I had never felt compelled to keep a narrator’s secret, especially not from you, dear friends.
I’m hesitant to say too much about this book, even in sharing it I still want to keep some part of it close. But, here we are, the secret’s out: Olga Ravn’s My Work is “a story driven by internal events” (or are they?), one that though fragmented and experimental very much coheres, becomes whole, the way, perhaps, a bucket remains whole, even as what it contains is drained cup by cup. It is a novel that exists, despite the fact that “it is very difficult to put together a whole…to figure out what wholeness is and what it looks like,” with any novel, and particularly this novel, which questions that form constantly, so it becomes one that “both illuminates and covers its tracks”— revisits and surges ahead—“as though the book was a force that wanted to exist.” And it was this force, the thing that made it, ultimately, a novel I had to share.
Perhaps what I like so much about natural wine and fiction is their existence as objects. The objects conjure, for me, the very sense of creation, of a very, very ancient, elemental transformation— from nothing to something, from sunlight to wine, from idea to novel. Of this month’s wine, a skin-contact blend of Muscat and Semillon from Octágono (Valle de Guadalupe), the winery says: “this wine breaks paradigms, does not people-please, and is honest in its expression.” It’s a slightly funky wine, reminiscent of fruit from several different seasons, but one that, by some magic (and skill), coheres into a single whole sip. One that tastes of spring with its “opening of rhubarb/ pink-edged insides,” of clementines peeled in the depth of winter, and, as it leaves, of tropical fruits (pineapple and guava) “still smelling of summer, and inside something hard”(pits and a spine-tingling acidity). The color, which is something to hold up in your glass and take notice of, “is also fuzzy,” meaning it’s a color you can feel in your teeth. Its bite-y-ness, for me, is best on day one, so you might consider opening your bottle at the 15th Continuation, and reading through the night. But, if that’s not for you, what you’ll get on day two is something softer: fruit with a ghostly quality of crumbs swept up in your hand and tossed away. I suppose, if you are in possession of more sanity than I, you will read this novel over more than two days, but I can not tell you anything about that.