Composition No.1

by Marc Saporta

Rating: 3/5

I'll start my review about this book with a question, "Can you take a jigsaw piece of literature?"

I'll set aside my answer to that question for a moment, and let's start with something other than the book itself next: My reason for choosing the book Composition No. 1 was simple: this book was a total Nonsense on my first impression. At least during my short reading period of it, I had absolutely no idea how to get started. And I happen to be a person who likes a moderate challenge, so I chose this book.

And as William told me after I chose this book: there is a dearth of information about this book. But based on my brief reading experience and the bits and pieces of information I'd gathered, I had a rough idea of what I'd need to do to read it in advance.

So I tried to find an electronic version of the book that I had found on Youtube. Unfortunately, the app is supposed to have disappeared into the App Store with the passage of time, and I couldn't find and download it, at least for the time being. Judging from the video, though, VisualEdition seems to have crafted a companion app to the book. It comes with the ability to randomize pages, as well as some more artistic treatment of the cover, so I do wish I could experience the book again in this format.

So, back to the book itself, I ended up going with the physical book version. Logically, I should have followed the same format as it's presented in the app, and randomly selected a page from the remaining pile of pages to continue with each page I read, but that was a bit too much work, and I probably couldn't have finished reading it in less than a day if I did do it that way. So I opted for a more direct approach: shuffle pages directly at the very beginning and then read. But here's the kicker: I was only able to find the older French original in the rare book library, but with the help of ChatGPT, I was barely able to do a normal reading of it.

As a whole, the experience of reading this book was like a combination of viewing an abstract painting and a slice of several people's lives. I say it's like an abstract experience because there isn't really an exact time for many of the things that happen here, and other than a cover page telling you how to read the book, the chronology is completely free to be edited as the reader sees fit. It does, of course, devise some backstory, such as the fact that France is at war with Germany (possibly WWII), and the stories of some of the main characters, Marianne, Dagmar, Helga, and a French Resistance that could be seen as a darker thread. But I don't think this piece can actually be read as a Choose your own Adventure, because the whole book is still actually tied together by a few major stories. And what's worse is that if I put myself into the role of the hero, the one who is involved in the whole story, I realized that I am actually very conflicted... I am the one who marries Marianne, but at the same time treats her so coldly that she goes insane; I am the one who cheats on and plays with my mistress, Dagmar, and even rapes Helga, but at the same time, I was in the vanguard of the movement against the German fascists and occupiers. This is a bit of a puzzle to me. But if I take away from that, some of the events are just a bit headless, such as the part where Helga is raped, and depending on the order in which you read it and what you think, you could even think that Marianne orchestrated the event. This indirectly shows how difficult it is for the reader to actually find out how to string them together in a sensible way one way or the other. I could go through the whole book with how Marianne deteriorates as a main thread, but some other parts of the narrative would leave me wondering, thus breaking the immersion.

But the book still has very many redeeming qualities: for example, even with the text translated once through ChatGPT, I could still feel the author's very beautiful descriptions in describing the details of some of the scenes and images, which does fit very well with the fact that this novel belongs to the category of New Romance in terms of kind. As well as the idea of the book itself: it does manage that you are able to read this novel as if you were shuffling playing cards. And it does offer a relatively novel reading experience, as long as you ignore some of the implausibilities.

But ultimately, it's time to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review: at least as far as this book is concerned, I didn't enjoy reading it very much: at each turn of the page, it was like picking up a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, not knowing how to place it on the canvas or whether I'd put it together in the right place. At the same time, it puzzles me like an abstract painting when the piecing is complete. So, if I look at it as a Choose Your Own Adventure book, it's only middling: novel in form, but still flawed in content.