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from Danielle Dutton, The Review of Contemporary Fiction — a review of Moving Parts

Magdalena Tulli. Moving Parts. Trans. Bill Johnston. Archipelago Books, 2005. 133 pp. $22.00.

The second of Tulli’s works published by Archipelago, Moving Parts is an invigorating puzzle of grammar and narrative that takes the reader on a fantastic journey through the last hundred years of European history without ever leaving the confines of a hotel. This curious building contains an impossible number of floors, trapdoors, and tunnels that seem to be the architecture of the story itself as well as the whole world. We follow here a nameless narrator who “would prefer not to tell about anything at all,” and who is not the book’s narrator but has been paid to narrate a certain plot, a banal tale involving a love triangle and an argument in a garden. This narrator gets bored, sidetracked, and ultimately lost as he struggles to maintain his hold on a story in which characters mutate or complain about their story line, other narrators of other stories get in the way, and a trapdoor in the hotel’s basement leads to a tunnel, which leads to an apartment building during World War II, which leads to an elevator, which leads to something pretty close to hell on earth. Because he is not a reader or character, our narrator can move behind the scenes of the hotel—which stand in for the constructed realities of narrative and history—with a set of keys that open doors to other places and times; but he is finally as powerless as anyone to understand or affect the nightmare of the world he confronts. In its surprising movements through history, space, and language, Moving Parts is an incisive social commentary that suggests how crucial it is we pay attention to dominant structures of narrative in literature and life.

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