Novelties functions as a sort of deconstruction of the novel in reverse, collecting Bengt Adlers’ The very best novel (1976), The second best novel (1977), and The very worst novel (1977). The very best novel finds Adlers’ story at its most spare, broken into simple associative pairings of ideas, each separated by a page turn from “Chapter one: Spring / Blue sky” to “Chapter nine: Seine / Suicide.” The second best novel acts as an inventory of the setting, characters, and plot, each disconnected and rendered in a cold, matter-of-fact voice: “Paris, city, N central France,” “Man. 37 years old. 183 cm tall and weighs 71 kilos,” etc. The very worst novel, however, reads the most like a novel in the traditional sense, fleshing out the disparate elements of the first two exercises into florid prose: “The Charles de Gaulle airport of Paris is a world of its own. Being there is like being on the threshold of the 21st century.”
By framing the three variations on a simple story as “very best,” “second best,” and “very worst,” Adlers emphasizes the role of the reader and illustrates the importance of interpretation. The “very best” version of the story, Adlers posits, is the one where the reader’s interpretive role is the greatest, where the entirety of plot is gracefully foreshortened into simple pairings of ideas, hanging in the active negative space of the book form. The “very worst” version of the same, on the other hand, is the most heavily authored; the reader is pulled along by the author’s oppressive interpretation of his own story, unable to make the elegant and poetic leaps of association that are invited by such fragments as “Chapter eight: Airport / Goodbye.” In fact, the “worst” version of the novel begins to tell a different story altogether, forcing us to interrogate the very nature of storytelling through what Adlers reveals to be an excitingly unstable novelistic form.
Also included are two afterwords (in Swedish), reproductions of correspondence between Adlers and prospective publishers, as well as excerpts of early illustrated versions of the novel.