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Nightwood

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3.66  ·  Rating details ·  8,200 ratings  ·  812 reviews
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (TLS). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold ...more
Paperback, 182 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by New Directions (first published 1936)
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Hugh I'm sure it's not just you, but I would strongly disagree! The chapter, "Watchman, What of the Night?", is one of my favorite pieces of writing, full…moreI'm sure it's not just you, but I would strongly disagree! The chapter, "Watchman, What of the Night?", is one of my favorite pieces of writing, full stop. The Doctor is trying to soothe and distract a heartbroken Nora, so he is absolutely rambling and there's a fair amount of nonsense there, but it's also a brilliant stream of consciousness. Arguably, it also contains one of the first descriptions of gender dysphoria in western literature.

This kind of stream of consciousness modernism isn't for everyone, but I've always thought this was such a beautiful piece of writing. A half-mad, gender-bending abortionist goes on an epic rant about nighttime, sodomy, past lives... what's not to love?!?(less)
Mitesis Audiovisual Six months late, I hope I'm not too late to this here answer. Dalkey press, they have my seal of approval, it's the right criteria for this kind of…moreSix months late, I hope I'm not too late to this here answer. Dalkey press, they have my seal of approval, it's the right criteria for this kind of book. I hope you did get to enjoy that one.(less)

Community Reviews

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3.66  · 
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 ·  8,200 ratings  ·  812 reviews


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mark monday
Nightwood is the sound of hearts breaking, written on the page, spread out for all to see, five lives, five people eviscerated and eviscerating each other. These people fucking kill me, they are so sad and so full of nonsense and so determined to live in their own personal little boxes, striving for epiphanies that they barely even understand, trying to be a certain idea of What a Person Is. Is that what I'm like? Maybe that's what everyone is like. Barnes lays out these characters' lives like b ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: erotica, 1920s
”’You know what man really desires?’ inquired the doctor, grinning into the immobile face of the Baron. ‘One of two things: to find someone who is so stupid that he can lie to her, or to love someone so much that she can lie to him.’”

 photo Nightwood Backless Dress_zpsh8sdfbye.jpg

Baron Felix is a man of pretenses. He is not really a baron at all, but his father had perpetrated the deception his whole life so Felix’s filial legacy is to carry on the social duplicity. ”He kept a valet and a cook; the one because he looked like Louis the Four
...more
Richard Derus
Feb 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
Rating: 1.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (TLS). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold but surprisingly porous. The outsized characters who inhabit this world are some of
...more
Michael
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2018
From the start, an overwhelming sense of dread and despair pervades Nightwood: Barnes alternates between entrancing readers with the novel’s ethereal prose and jerking them awake with moments of unspeakable torment. In spite of the pain that structures the novel, though, the character of the (fake) Doctor provides much needed comic relief in each of Nightwood’s eight short sections.
BlackOxford
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american
Passing in Paris

To Pass; verb, intransitive: to be accepted as being something that you are not, esp. something better or more attractive:
Marion looks so young she could pass for 30
Do this jacket and skirt match well enough to pass as a suit?
.
- Cambridge English Dictionary


“Love, that terrible thing!,” says one of Barnes’s characters. Terrible because the demand of love is the voluntary loss of oneself. To make oneself lovable it is necessary to strive toward some other identity. Maintaining th
...more
Aubrey
4.999...9/5

It is wise of me to mention that from here on out, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Which, admittedly, is the usual truth of the matter concerning these reviews, but this book in particular makes me give a damn about how much knowledge did not or has not yet trickled down and damned up in my mind. Not enough to get mad over, or perhaps rather not the right type. No, this is a shaft of light breaking into countless beams that my eye has populated itself with multitudes in hopes o
...more
Jeff Jackson
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club-2
The novel that almost ended my book club.

We'd previously read work by Robert Coover, Anne Carson, and Ben Marcus. Cormac McCarthy's Suttree and The Story of O. But it was Nightwood that most of the usually intrepid group didn't bother to finish, a few unwilling to even venture past the first chapter. Bitter complaints of overly baroque language, old fashioned concerns with ancestry, and a story where "nothing happened." Folks were pissed.

To be honest, I'm still mystified. While it took me far
...more
Michael
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: aubrey
I am a fan of experimental literature since first experiencing the fun rides I got from Postmodernist novels of Barth, Vonnegut, and Pynchon in my college days in the early 70s. I recently set out to give myself a dose of ten radical novels ranging from Woolf’s first exploration of Modernist forms in “The Voyage Out” (1915) to a recent example of the “new weird”, Nell Zink’s “The Wallcreeper” (2014). Among the set I chose, the most challenging to read and digest in my soul was the one on my plat ...more
Barry Pierce
Many of the reviews of Nightwood on this website seem to reflect the same sentiment, 'how do I even review this?' I often think this is a bit of a cop-out review but in the case of Djuna Barnes' Modernist novel from 1936, utter disorientation seems to be the most fitting response.

A novel generally follows a basic plot with some semblance of a structure and often has one main character. Nightwood begins the birth of Baron Felix. We learn about his false patronage and we follow him in his attempt
...more
Hadrian
Apr 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, fiction
Nightwood is a damned fearsome book. It is a crazed electric monologue through the intimations of secret love and the creeping monsters that lurk in nightmares.

I am obliged to quote T. S. Eliot's introduction and say that this is a book suited for those with "sensibilities trained on poetry". This is not just from the beauty of Barnes' prose style, but the meaning and insinuation dripping from every word. It is a flowing sequence of emotions, mostly traumas. Love is seldom sappy here, but an in
...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I still see far too frequently folks adding the Truncated Nightwood to their reading. The one slashed up by Eliot in order to get it past the Uptight Folks. If you want Barnes as Barnes wrote herself, you'll have to do better than a slim cheap pb (even if it is a New Directions). And it's easy enough to do with this beautiful (OUT OF PRINT) Dalkey ed by Cheryl J. Plumb.

If you're interested in the controversies about BAN'd Books and things of this nature, you'll not be reading that ubiquitous vic
...more
Kai
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
"We are but skin against a wind, with muscles clenched against mortality."

The language of this novel is outstanding. It's vibrant, engaging and utterly confusing. It's philosophy made poetry. And I am neither a philosopher nor a poet.
This book is and will most certainly always remain a mystery to me. The plot is the easy part:
Woman marries dude, has his child, leaves him for another woman, leaves her for another woman, and everybody is friends with the Doctor. Not the Doctor, though.
What remains
...more
Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
Apr 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in gay literature
It’s hard to believe what this book turned into as I got further in. In the preface, the book receives copious amounts of praise from Jeanette Winterson. She was influenced by the blatant lesbian content Barnes presents here: it encouraged her to display the same in her works. T.S Eliot even praised it, and T.S Eliot criticised everything to death. That first page will, nevertheless, always remain awful. But this is a book about appearances; it is a book about seeming rather than being, as the b ...more
Joseph Spuckler
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting story of a fake baron, three women who have affairs with each other, and a cross dressing doctor who rambles endlessly and ties the four other characters together. A favorite of T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas although Eliot does say it needs to be read several times.
Jesse
Fourth reading, and it remains just as much a mystery as ever. Marianne Moore said that "reading Djuna Barnes is like reading a foreign language, which you understand," and while I don't disagree I find that any sensation of "comprehension" simply feels like entering another locked room to puzzle out of. A labyrinth with no exit, and I wouldn't have it any other way. [Apr 2017]

...


After a second reading was compelled to include the missing fifth star. Maybe someday I'll be able to write something
...more
Jonathan
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My second reading of this, but my first of the Dalkey edition. Reading it along with other of her work this year I have no doubt of her place amongst the great literary geniuses of the inter-war era. She is unafraid of complexity, subtlety and nuance. She is unabashedly, proudly, queer (and the un-censored Dalkey edition does much to bring the transgressive power of this text back to life). She has the intelligence, ambition and courage to produce truly great art.

This is one of the great books o
...more
Jimmy
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
T.S. Elliot said of Nightwood, that it was "so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it". It's really more like a poetic dream than it is a novel. This isn't really because there is no narrative to be found, there is, and what's more, there is a clearly defined romantic conflict between the two main female characters, Nora Flood and Robin Vote. What makes it poetic is probably the flowery digressions that follow the brief explanations of what is happening i ...more
Mala
Mar 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Outcasts, Tortured souls


Night people do not bury their dead, but on the neck of you, their beloved and waking, sling the creature, husked of its gestures. And where you go, it goes, the two of you, your living and her dead, that will not die; to daylight, to life, to grief, until both are carrion.

Nightwood is such a strange book and this isn't so much a ramrod- straight person's reaction to gay-lesbian literature as the feverish, dream-like quality of the text– like you've stumbled into someone's nightmare & can't
...more
knig
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Nightwood plays out lenticularly: Christ-cum Rasputin- like Dr O’Connor dominates the central frame with secondary characters phasing in and out in tune with a subtle rotational accretion of meditational ‘om’ spiked Eurekas.

A trifecta of bisexual women in perpetual locomotion seek out a Pythagorian articulation of their triangular ‘saltarello’, overseen by the gregarious doctor and overshadowed by a jilted husband. This then is the plot, what little of it there is.

Character driven in extremis, ‘
...more
Paul
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A short, but by no means easy novel set in Paris (mostly) in the 1930s. It is semi-autobiographical and contains some strong and memorable characters. My edition has two introductions. The first by T S Eliot says that to truly understand Nightwood you have to have a poetic sensibility (Well thsnks for that Tom; if I don't get it that means I am a complete philistine!!!}. After that I really wanted to hate the book but sadly couldn't. The other intro is an achingly heartfelt and passionate recomm ...more
Tony
Jan 28, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
The reading gods have a lot of time on their hands. They conspire, they do. How else to explain that two of the last four books I've read were hi-jacked by characters who went on essentially book-length perorations. In Embers by Sándor Márai, an old man invites a very old friend to dinner and then, for 120 pages, tells him the story the friend already knows. Here, in 'Nightwood', characters find themselves drawn to Matthew O'Connor, a cross-dressing, tortured alcoholic, playing at a doctor, who ...more
Kirstine
Everyman dies finally of that poison known as the-heart-in-the-mouth. Yours is in your hand. Put it back. The eater of it will get a taste for you; in the end his muzzle will be heard barking among your ribs.

I wish I could say something clever about this book. I’ve put it off till now because I’m at a loss, as I so often am. Some novels force the breath out of your lungs, they force you to breathe the air they breathe, to live the life they create for you and to believe in the things they tell
...more
BrokenTune
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
1.5* rounded up.

Matthew,' she said, 'have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?'
For a moment he did not answer. Taking up the decanter he held it to the light.
'Robin can go anywhere, do anything,' Nora continued, 'because she forgets, and I nowhere because I remember.' She came toward him. 'Matthew,' she said, 'you think I have always been like this. Once I was remorseless, but this is another love — it goes everywhere; there is no place for it to stop — it rots me away.”


I honestly fee
...more
Edward
I enjoyed the style and originality of Nightwood, but didn't love it, for two reasons. The first is that it is very much of its time. The novel feels like a push-back, a response to the status-quo, an attempt to embody some form of modernity. I felt I lacked context; I found it difficult to meaningfully relate to this narrow, obsolete zeitgeist. The second reason, is that I could not connect deeply enough to the characters - especially to the three women - to feel involved in their minds and the ...more
Bloodorange
First star for the disappointment. Second - for the use of the language, the cadence of sentences, and the use of punctuation, semicolon in particular. I think I'll start showing fragments of Nighwood to my students, who mostly only believe in commas, to show them how punctuation adds clarity and tension.
He was usually seen walking or driving alone, dressed as if expecting to participate in some great event, though there was no function in the world for which he could be said to be properly garb
...more
Nate D
Jun 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: moth-flame loves undying and inescapable
Recommended to Nate D by: The terrifying body language of a doomed couple glimpsed across the room
A strange and oddly removed portrayal of chained relationship collapse. Or not so much collapse, as the structures seem never so well-built as to merit the power and finality of a "collapse". Instead, constructed of ephemeral and ill-defined desires, these relationships barely exist to begin with, already well into their inexorable fade into nonexistence. The strongest structures about them were always the bitter unflagging despair of a human connection that will never, never be found. Even when ...more
Alex
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"I have been loved," she said, "By something strange, and it has forgotten me!"

Here is something strange, a 1936 landmark of modernist gay poetry disguised as a novella. It's written with unstoppable confidence and verve and the dangerous knowledge that all people are possible, and any of them may be geniuses. It follows a love triangle of three women as they pursue each other hopelessly around the world. A gender-fluid doctor provides commentary and impenetrable advice. "I have a narrative," he
...more
Xandra
This definitely feels like an Important Book. You read it and you think "I’ve haven’t read anything like it before". So part of your enjoyment comes from the element of novelty. And it’s a difficult novel, which automatically makes it exciting. But there are difficult novels that are stimulating and rich in ideas, and difficult novels that weigh the reader down, instead of lifting you up on a happy cloud of fulfilment, they wear you out. For me, Nightwood falls into the latter category. It has m ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A book preceded by and shrouded in its reputation for difficulty, which for me translates to its breaking of a long-established and yet mostly unwritten fictional rule: you do not make the bulk of your novel a series of conversations, especially if those conversations are about the characters’ worldviews. Most of this rule, as I see it, was born out of the good old “who-do-you-think-you’re-fooling” principle - the idea is if you’re not too careful with such a novel, you’ve got something that loo ...more
Zanna
I'm evidently just not brilliantly smart enough to enjoy this book as I couldn't see the point of it at all. In a way it reminded me of Shakespeare, extemporising on themes of love, sexual jealousy and personality in flights of poetry. But remember why Shakespeare is a little bit obscure and difficult, because we hear it through the long shadows of the centuries; a couple more, I read, and we'll have to translate it, like Chaucer. Nightwood is dense and difficult at eighty, presumably because it ...more
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Barnes has been cited as an influence by writers as diverse as Truman Capote, William Goyen, Isak Dinesen, John Hawkes, Bertha Harris and Anaïs Nin. Writer Bertha Harris described her work as "practically the only available expression of lesbian culture we have in the modern western world" since Sappho.

Barnes played an important part in the development of 20th century English language modernist wr
...more
“The unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy.” 972 likes
“I talk too much because I have been made so miserable by what you are keeping hushed.” 121 likes
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