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The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas
Group Reads - Fiction > Group Fiction Read – May / June 2019 - The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas

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message 1: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul (halfmanhalfbook) | 5459 comments Mod
This is the thread for discussion for the fiction book of the month.

Things to consider:

1. Were you hooked immediately by the book or did it take a while to get into?
2. Did you like the plot?
3. Did the characters drive the plot or were they just passengers?
4. Did it come across as a credible story?
5. Did you connect to any of the characters in the story
6. Did you like the ending?
7. Did you have any quote or lines that stood out for you?
8. Would you read any other titles by this author?

Jason (jasondenness) | 1875 comments Jus this second finished this. No idea how to review it. Sun's out so gonna go for a walk, clear my brain and see if I can make sense of this immense book.

Jason (jasondenness) | 1875 comments Here is my review.

Fantastic book, I hope more members here give a read so we can compare theories. :-)

message 4: by Inga (last edited Apr 21, 2019 10:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Inga | 5 comments The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James

I've got this book both as a paperback and a Kindle version - yes, it's that good. I've reviewed it before (5 stars, would give more if I could), but it's well worth discussing, and I'm intrigued by everyone else's conspiracy theories!

I agree with Jason that it is quite a challenge to shoehorn the book into any particular genre. It is a classic detective novel in the style of Chandler or Hammet, even though there is no ‘real’ detective as such - the protagonist being a journalist/biographer searching for the 'truth', whatever that is. It is also a biography, a factual retelling of the background of one of the 20th century’s most iconic (and unheard of) artists who influenced the likes of Warhol, Basquiat, Beuys and Banksy. It asks more questions than it gives answers, especially with regards to whether this is factual and what/how much/anything/nothing you read is true. In the fake truth era we're in right now this is pretty timely, although the manuscript apparently pre-dates this by a few years. Premonition?

Ezra Maas was reportedly something of an enigma. Fiercely private, he was surrounded by mystery, and then disappeared without a trace several years ago. And not just he did - his legacy did too. All apparently protected (destroyed?) by the foundation set up to manage his estate, which has been so thorough I’ve been unable to find any coherent info on him, let alone examples of his artwork. It gets more intriguing. This is an unauthorised biography. The Maas Foundation apparently fought tooth and nail to stop the book from being published - there were rumours the initial print run of it disappeared 2017 ahead of Daniel James’ appearance at the Books on Tyne Festival.

James himself was hired by an unknown client to write this biography - to uncover the truth. A task that proves challenging to a degree of carrying great personal risk, which becomes more and more palpable throughout the book. Also, who is Daniel James really? Is he Ezra Maas? Are they both actually real people? I've been to a few readings by the author calling himself Daniel James and he doesn't quite fit the narrative of the hard-drinking, narcissistic, womanising hard-boiled detective, so that's likely just a persona. Also, he disappeared, right? So how's he back now, all in one piece?

The book is structured in interweaving narratives of journalistic chapters on the life of Ezra Maas and chapters written in the first person in which James recounts his process of retracing Ezra Maas’ footsteps, in the hope of solving the puzzle that is Maas. Newspaper clippings, telephone transcripts, reports, interviews and email correspondence intersperse this. The book is meticulously researched - it is evident James has a background in journalism. The footnotes themselves are a story within the story, interwoven voices of two, three, multiple narratives. The book can be read without them, however, they enrich the book and I would recommend reading them, especially in the first chapter and where they question some of the narrative in the text. The Kindle version is very helpful there, as it hotlinks the footnotes as a pop up window you can then close again. Personally, they didn't distract me in either version.

I found the book to be a little like a Russian Doll, or as Shrek's onion, as Jason put it so fittingly. Just when you think you've got a theory and an idea James turns it all on its head. I found the narrative about Jane truly chilling. The Coney Island and LA chapters again have a sense of self-deprecating humour, and the description of some of the places James travels to retracing Maas' footsteps are described in an almost painterly style and prose. The chapters on Ezra Maas, which are a 'straightforward' biography, are a study in postmodern art history - you'll actually learn a lot! The footnotes will take you on a journey into philosophy and world history from the 1950s til today - again you'll learn, and question, a lot. Everything disintegrates in the end, but in ways you would never expect. It leaves you changed, baffled and in awe, and I can totally understand why Jason had to go for a walk and let it all settle a bit first. I mulled this over for a few months, to be honest, and it still comes back to me every now and again. As a debut novel it is astonishingly ambitious and confidently executed. I hope more people will read it, as it truly is like nothing else out there. Pretty much a cult novel in the making.

With regards to strange goings on, I personally missed the typos and missing 'END' of chapters, not sure whether there's a significance. But I feel like going to check it out now! The Maas Foundation is also following me on Twitter...

The quote that stood out most for me and that I think sums this all up quite well is from the first chapter:

"Maas didn’t have to hide his secrets, he casually scattered them on the ground for all to see and watched the trees grow up around him. For in a forest of signs nothing could be seen clearly at all."

Jason (jasondenness) | 1875 comments Favourite quote for me was right at the end of the book, can't repeat it here because of spoilers.

Inga | 5 comments I have a feeling I know which one you mean 😉

Alison | 55 comments I'm so looking forward to discussing this. If I had time, I'd re-read it.

Inga | 5 comments I wish more folks would pick it up, it’s seriously a one in a million book. Come on you guys, give it a try and join the theories! ;)

Olga Wojtas | 4 comments I think it's fabulous - in a way it took me a while to get into it because instead of just going with the flow, I was asking loads of questions, eg who's speaking, are they reliable, check the next footnote... That's not a criticism, just that to begin with I was almost approaching it as a report rather than a novel. Then I was just totally caught up in it.
Like Alison above, I think a re-read would be great, to see how cleverly it's been put together. I'm hopeless with crime novels, and never work out clues, but that doesn't stop me enjoying them. With this, I loved the changes of pace and style, which kept up the intrigue.
Loads of great lines in it, but I'll pick out "Reality is a palimpsest."
I too was a journalist with News International, but quite glad I never had Daniel James as a colleague - definitely one of those divas who never buys a round. ;)
And yes, I would read more by this author. Is he going to be filing from the Great Beyond?

Jason (jasondenness) | 1875 comments Haha, working with Daniel James would certainly be an experience.

message 11: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Cook (mattcookwriter) | 2 comments Hey folks, here's my contribution to the discussion. I hope anyone who hasn't read it yet finds it useful.

First off, this kind of novel would have always jumped off the shelf at me. The title, the jacket and the blurb promising metaphysical rabbit holes are right up my street. Having said that, I have two small children. I’m a huge fan of Borges and David Foster Wallace (both of whom sprung to mind before and during my read) but given how short of time and mental energy I am, I’m just better set up to reach for a Borgesian short than a DFW doorstop at present. So the length did make me think twice, especially since it felt like the themes could be hard work to grapple with over that kind of page count.

However, I found myself gripped immediately and the whole book kind of flew by. Which was weird, because there were so many deviations and footnotes and changes of pace and tact. It manages to challenge and be a page turner too. The whole book, from the protagonist to the plot to the minutiae of asides, is led by a kind of post-modernist noir logic rooted in art and literary theory. Which sounds like a dull BBC4 documentary, but Daniel James has managed to weave something utterly compelling out of it all. You’re dragged through it by the eyeballs wanting to uncover the mystery at the heart of the maze, all while he’s telling you repeatedly there is no mystery, the maze is an illusion, and Ezra, like all art, is essentially unknowable. Daniel James (main character) is driven to peel back every layer obsessively and you cannot help but be there every step with him. Where drama takes over, it feels fairly Pynchonesque, kind of tongue in cheek. Necessary to accelerate you and the narrative, almost an exercise in shifting to gear to show he can, never feeling melodramatic but never dropping the masterful tension he has created either. Credibility of story and likeableness of character are not things I concern myself with too readily when reading (or writing) nor do I think Daniel James does. Both felt like they were being crafted to perform their jobs whilst serving a higher purpose, but if you can’t dig a book without characters you really relate to, then this novel is not for you. What I would say is that Ezra Maas (who the jury is still out on, in terms of his actual physical existence) is a fantastically piercing artistic presence, who embodies the ultimate apex of artistic transcendence, defining a period whilst eschewing it. And in that sense I found myself loving him, even though he’s a total douche. (Much like many of the 20th century’s greatest creative figures.)

This is giant microscope drawn steadily over 20th century art, literature, science, philosophy, demanding you scrutinise the paradoxes and details of every interrelated strand, to show you the fabric of western societal constructs and their perilous fragility. Or at least, that’s what I took from it and I imagine any reader could take something different, the depth is vast, and deliberately so. It sets out to be cavernous and terrifying. And it is.

By the time I got to the ending I was fascinated by how DJ could possible wrap things up, how can you answer the riddle you’ve waited so long to see solved but know in your heart probably can’t ever be? I knew it wouldn’t be simple, but it was hugely satisfying to see the final onion layer peeled back and the inversion / implosion finally completed. I don’t know how he did it, but I would love to read it again (if I had time) and anything else James has in the future. I can’t dig out any quotes because I loaned my copy out immediately to a friend, but every excerpt you’ll find here or elsewhere for that matter is gold and very indicative of the tone. If you like them, you’ll love the book.

message 12: by Inga (new) - rated it 5 stars

Inga | 5 comments You’re the second one in a day who mentions David Foster Wallace. Someone posted a book review on Twitter yesterday, a brilliant one too, mentioning apparent influences that popped into my mind too. I don’t know whether we’re allowed to link to external reviews though?

The blogger mentioned being very much reminded of the 1987 classic Noir film ‘Angel Heart’, based on William Hjortsberg’s ‘Falling Angel’ and I found myself just vigorously nodding at the computer screen!

Jason (jasondenness) | 1875 comments This book got short listed for the not the booker award, so anybody whose read this and is doing the BV awards challenge, here's another one crossed off your list. wooo

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