The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker

I first stumbled across Nicholson Baker probably 10 years ago, and I’ve cherished his work ever since. He’s a master pornographer (Vox), a reasonably successful polemicist (Checkpoint) and a tireless campaigner for the value of libraries (Double Fold – Libraries and the Assault on Paper), but he’s probably best known for his hyper-meticulous descriptive work, which covers The Mezzanine (his first novel), The Size of Thoughts and A Box of Matches.

I was inspired to re-read the Mezzanine by a passage in Tristram Shandy in which Walter and Toby are walking down a flight of stairs, and Sterne (as Tristram) says:

Is it not a shame to make two chapters of what passed in going down one pair of stairs? for we are got no farther yet than to the first landing, and there are fifteen more steps down to the bottom; and for aught I know, as my father and my uncle Toby are in a talking humour, there may be as many chapters as steps.

Given that the premise of The Mezzanine is to document the thoughts of the protagonist as he travels up his office escalator from the ground floor to the mezzanine, a journey that takes the entire length of the novel, there’s a clear link here, and the two books have a fair amount in common. I was wondering whether anything in the book mentioned the connection at all. It doesn’t.

What’s interesting on a second reading is that, when I read it in the 90s. the decade of its publication, it struck me as a fascinating and wonderful novel about contemporary office life. In 2008, it now has some of the quality of a historical document about it. It’s scary how office life has changed in the intervening 18-odd years.

He loves footnotes. I love footnotes.

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