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BOOK REVIEW: The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball


“It is book of delight — a love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory.” – Jesse Ball describing The Way Through Doors (from The Elegant Variation)

Selah Morse, a recent recruit to the Seventh Ministry, is walking past when a young woman is hit by a speeding taxi. He rushes her to the hospital where he discovers that in addition to having lost her memory, she is without identification. An unexplainable urge possesses him and when asked by the doctor, he poses as her boyfriend. Charged with keeping her awake for the next 18 hours, and assisting her in recovering her memory, Selah passes the night telling her stories.

If you’ve read Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball’s first novel, then you are already familiar with the convoluted narrative methodologies he employs. The basic plot of The Way Through Doors merely provides a narrative framework for his wordplay. One reviewer, describing Ball’s fiction, stated his “stories are nested within each other, tumbling and turning inside and out like a narrative mobius strip.”

The Way Through Doors is most often described by reviewers as “Russian nesting dolls,” stories nestled within stories. Ball’s convoluted tales continually twist back upon themselves, causing readers to question the veracity of statements made by Selah. Each rendition of a story alters slightly with subsequent retellings, slowly leading readers to the conclusion that Selah is an unreliable narrator.

As a reader, one generally either likes or loathes contemporary, experimental fiction. Those who like straight, narrative lines and emotional arcs find this type of fiction messy and unsettling. There is little here to anchor the reader: Selah begins a story and then one of the characters will begin to relate another, perhaps one featuring Selah and Mora as characters.

In a novel where nothing is as it seems and readers continually search for narrative certainty, the writer’s ability is critical. It is incumbent upon the author to create prose that sings, carrying the readers along in its wake through sections devoid of all frames of reference. Ball handles words like a master and his delight in language oozes from the page.

As Ball says in the quote at the beginning of this review, The Way Through Doors is a “love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory.” Yet I would argue that it is a love song of the imagination sung by Ball of his love for stories, expressing his love for stories. The way he views narrative is expressed most most clearly by one of his characters in this quote: “Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there…”

Interview with Jesse Ball about The Way Through DoorsBookSlut

A list of the music Ball listened to while writing The Way Through DoorsBook Notes

ISBN10: 0307387461
ISBN13: 9780307387462

Trade Paperback
240 Pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: February 10, 2009


posted under fiction
One Comment to

“BOOK REVIEW: The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball”

  1. On July 6th, 2009 at 5:47 pm KonstantinMiller Says:

    I have been looking looking around for this kind of information. Will you post some more in future? I’ll be grateful if you will.

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