‘Hocus Bogus’

Michael Dirda in The Washington Post:

Hocus pocus That great woman of letters Mary McCarthy once described playful, intricately structured novels — like Nabokov's “Pale Fire” and Felipe Alfau's “Locos” — as her “fatal type.” She couldn't resist them. “Hocus Bogus” would have left her swooning, faint with palpitations, madly in love.

Beautifully produced by Yale University Press, the book is the perfect length — just under 200 pages. Roughly the size of a trade paperback, it fits nicely in the hand. The black matte-finished dust jacket catches the eye with its cover image of a man's face, half in shadow, half outlined in spooky white, like an old-style photographic negative. The sturdy binding opens easily without cracking; the paper is a faint cream and thick enough to avoid see-through; and the page layout is airy, with good margins. Even the chapters are invitingly short.

Most important of all, the award-winning translator — Princeton professor David Bellos — provides not only a wonderful English version of “Pseudo,” as the book is called in French, but also a brief introduction that one should under no circumstances skip: It provides the essential context for this elaborate jeu d'esprit. Even more detail can then be found in the appended “Life and Death of Émile Ajar,” a confessional essay translated by the brilliant Barbara Wright.

More here.