The Supreme Orchestra
David Turgeon, Coach House Books, 2018
A brilliant mashup of spy novel and art-world parody.
What a jaunty tone of writing! It’s that tone that reminds me of Echenoz. It’s playful. Funny. Strange characters. A bit off-kilter in a sexy way. I devoured this book.
Turgeon's writing (and Pablo Strauss' creative translation), along with the characters and twists, do make for an enjoyable ride.
With serpentine sentences loaded with quotidian observation, a penchant for the rich possibilities of language, and a constant regard for the absurd, he displays impressive insights into the motivations and manipulations of human behaviour. (Pablo Strauss has done a commendable job on the English translation in this regard).
Deviously plotted and full of astutely wrought characters, the novel is by turns funny, frustrating, confusing, and exciting.
Witty without being self-involved, this novel is a charm to read for lovers of art history and spy-based mystery alike.
There, tucked in among the warehouses in a cheerless alley in a district now frequented exclusively by cutpurses and ne’er-do-wells, we found a long-abandoned service station whose garage door was no match for our lock pick. Inside, waiting faithfully as a car at a stop sign, was our trusty Cholet Model 7B. Debruyn got busy anonymyzing the corpse on a rough-hewn worktable still cluttered with old bottles of motor oil and anti-freeze. The humid late-winter air chilled us to the bone, and I suggested Debruyn might wish to pick up the pace, to which he countered that I might contrive to give him a hand for once in my goddamn life instead of prattling on pointlessly, an argument whose merit I was hard-pressed to deny. I took the opportunity to peruse our specimen’s wan face.
It’s not like anyone’s ever asked, but if you want my deﬁnition of art, here it is: art is work for work’s sake. I know my axiom may come as a shock to certain artists who’ve never looked beyond the strictly utilitarian sense of the word ‘work.’ But I stand behind my assertion: work for work’s sake is the only work free of utility. And art is no less than the subversion of work. Others will object: my deﬁnition is too broad, it encompasses classes of artisans no one has ever deigned to think of as artists, not to mention the armies of upstanding folk who hold work sacred and would do it whether they were paid or not. With my deep and abiding love of my métier, this is a category in which I must include myself.
Drawing is a matter of the eye: you get the prey in your sights, then aim true. And of course it’s a well-known fact that killers also work on paper ﬁrst. Yet drawing is also a matter of the hand, and that may be where practices diverge most widely. Every artist’s signature hand movement transfers onto the page in a singular manner, faithfully transcribing in black on white a highly personal habit of mind.
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