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The Conversions

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  154 ratings  ·  18 reviews
At a dinner party hosted by a wealthy New Yorker, a guest receives a gold adze, the coveted prize in a worm race. When the man dies the next day, he bequeaths, according to a stipulation in his will, the bulk of his fortune to the adze's possessor, provided he answer three mysterious questions relating to the artifact's history. In his search the owner encounters a menager ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published October 1st 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1962)
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Sara G
May 21, 2013 Sara G rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hardcore Oulipians
Is The Conversions the book for you?

Would you relish stopping in the middle to unravel a page of code?

Can you read French?

Are you sure you don't suffer from a psychologically unfounded abhorrence to all things Scottish?

Are you such a fan of Oulipo that you want to read a book that even subjects its characters to a constant barrage of Oulipian constraints that they need to overcome?

Do you get a sick pleasure out of reading lists (and does that mean I'm turning you on right now)?

Do you want to kno
Sep 08, 2009 Raketemensch rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Oulipo fans, mainly
2,5 stars
Most of the book is about the protagonist’s investigation to decipher a riddle posed in the first chapters. Details of his point-to-point research are presented in lenghty passages and in such density that sometimes it feels like playing various parts of encyclopedia on fast forward, which tends to be involving in a strange way.

Some reviewers compare The Conversions to several other ‘experimental’ works, most notably The Crying of lot 49 , which is somewhat similar in style and plot
This book recalls Calvino's If on a Winter's Night, Pynchon's Lot 49 & the "eggplant miracle" sections of Barth's Sot-Weed Factor with the key distinction that The Conversions is just way crappier than all of those books.
Lee Foust

So (Raymond) Roussel provided a model for The Conversions?


I didn’t use his methods specifically, but mine were similar in that they were based on relationships between words, often puns. The whole thing is based on misunderstanding language. Arriving at a party, the narrator is told that a song being sung is “The Sheik of Araby,” but what he hears is “the cheek of our Bea,” Bea being the daughter of the house. That kind of thing goes on throughout the book. (From The Paris Rev
J.M. Hushour
Bit more of a wank than his later works, especially Tlooth, written around the same time as this one and with it shares some surface features. I'm all for dense trickeries in books, but this novel is so devoid of anything even remotely interesting or engaging that it's hard to find anything of value in it. An unknown quantity wanders through blandly written documents and correspondence to solve an equally bland mystery placed upon his/her shoulders by the only amusing character in the book, Mr. ...more
Kinda reminded me, thematically and plotwise, of The Crying of Lot 49--the classic postmodern detective story trope--but this book is both more outwardly erudite and zanier (i.e., the first scene is a worm race). It's still a quick read, and filled with wild ideas, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Mathews was part of the Oulipo movement, a group of experimental poets who employed a variety of strange techniques to complicate the "meaning" of their work, and the passages here where he indulges i ...more
Haha, what an ending!

i read this in calm intervals which meshed with the short episodic chapters wonderfully and allowed for the dense playful methodology to maintain its beauty and humor. I'm concerned that I've rushed through his Tlooth and Journalist too quickly now, I think his style and energy need time to digest

Whoa! What an opening...
Charles Cohen
Could not get sucked in. It was 170 pages of me holding a book and reading word after word, and the book was never compelling enough for me to forget that. It's like all of the worst stereotypes about post-modern fiction in one book: more interest in syntax and formal experimentation than with actual characters or plot.
I recently re-read this book--a Roussel-like effort from Mathews, first published in the 60s. What can I say. I am a sucker for this kind of thing of formal innovation in fiction. Don't let the three stars fool you; I don't give out three starts to just anyone.
I enjoyed The Journalist more--both are semi-Oulipian works. Some of the word games are hard to follow, and not for the casual reader. The general plot was engaging, with plenty of quirky characters and story tangents that are a credit to Mathews.
The writing in this book is five stars, even though i ended up only giving it 3 stars. it ended to soon and suddenly, as if it wasn't really complete, but just over... still I recommend it and would be very curious to hear what others think!
A book in that seems a mix of Pynchon's crying of lot 49, Nabokov's Pale Fire, and O'brien's The Third Policeman..but written before any were published(actually same year as pale fire)! Endless jawdropping weirdness and humor.
This book is wonderful. It's wildly poetic and very much aware that it is a book. HM takes advantage of words in ways that few authors would be brave enough to try, and the ending is perfect.
Daniel Jackson
All I remember from this book are a silkworm, some colored lights, maybe a few children, and some kind of ancient artifact. And a painter. Oh, yeah, and that it rocked.
Colin Heber-Percy
I recently re-read this. I remember finding The Conversions baffling and funny a few years ago. On a second read - it's a masterpiece.
just wonderful shit. historical elements of the central nervous system finally given their due.
closer to 3.75
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Harry Mathews (born February 14, 1930) is an American author of various novels, volumes of poetry and short fiction, and essays.

Together with John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch, Mathews founded and edited the short-lived but influential literary journal Locus Solus (named after a novel by Raymond Roussel, one of Mathews's chief early influences) from 1961 to 1962.

Harry Mathews was the
More about Harry Mathews...
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