Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball is another contender in this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books.

It’s a short, sharp hyper-modern, hyper-meta novel. It’s narrated by a character named Jesse Ball, one who has suffered a painful breakup with a woman, and who goes on to become interested (or perhaps obsessed) with an old crime case in Japan, in which an accused man refuses to speak or proclaim his innocence even in the lack of no physical proof of crime.

One has the impression that one can know life, actual life, from its simulacrums by the fact that actual life constantly deceives and reveals, and is consistent in doing so. (4)

Part of why this novel worked for me was my recent listening binge of Sarah Koenig’s exhaustive look into Adnan Syed’s old case on the podcast Serial. (I highly recommend Serial. It’s an engaging story, and pairs extremely well with jigsaw puzzles.) I found spooky reverberations between the fictional case in the book and the actual case of the podcast.

Ball the character starts by interviewing the family of the accused, Oda Sotatsu. This is followed by details from the trial and interviews with the prosecutor and a prison guard. The next section is an interview with a woman who was in some way involved with Sotatsu. The final section is an interview with a man who was involved as well. Throughout I found wonderful sentences and images:

In the front apartment a light was on and people were moving back and forth, their inaccessible lives casting off something like the light that settled on them.

I felt tempted then to believe, as I always do, that the people inside were happy, that they knew things I did not know. (171)

The reader’s picture shifts with each new bit of information as it accumulates and either expands or contradicts what went before. There is more than a little here of Rashomon’s different people telling different tales about the same thing. There is also the chill, distant, weird modernism that I experienced when I read Haruki Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle, as well as echoes of Kafka. As such, it’s not emotionally engaging. But as a novel that pushes against the conventional ideas of the novel, I found this a fascinating read, one that reminded me of a past Tournament of Books contender, HHhH.

One Response to “SILENCE ONCE BEGUN by Jesse Ball”

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    I have tried to read this book twice now, but just can’t get into it. Something about the writing just leaves me cold and uninterested… maybe the former is intentional, but the latter is certainly a problem.