Harry Mathews, 1930–2017


In Memoriam


We’re sad to report that Harry Mathews has died, in Key West, at the age of eighty-six. In Harry, the Review has lost one of its most faithful and best-loved contributors, a writer we’ve worked with for more than fifty years—beginning in 1962, when we ran an excerpt from his first novel, The Conversions. Now, in our new Spring issue, we’ll publish an excerpt from the novel he just finished, The Solitary Twin. Our publisher, Susannah Hunnewell, interviewed Harry in 2007 for our Art of Fiction series. In her introduction she sketched his unique place in American fiction:

He is usually identified as the sole American member of the Oulipo, a French writers’ group whose stated purpose is to devise mathematical structures that can be used to create literature. He has also been associated with the New York School of avant-garde writers, which included his friends John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. After forty-five years of congenital allergy to convention, he rightfully belongs to the experimentalist tradition of Kafka, Beckett, and Joyce, even though his classical, witty style has won him comparisons to Nabokov, Jane Austen, and Evelyn Waugh. Yet while he enjoys the attention of thousands of cultishly enthusiastic French readers, Mathews remains relatively unknown in his native land and language. “When I go into an English bookstore, I always ask the same question,” a Frenchman told me with the sly smile that infects all Mathews fans. “ ‘Do you have Tlooth?’ ”

“I think what good writers do is rework sentences and paragraphs so that their prose works exactly the way they want it to work, whatever it may be saying,” Mathews says in the interview. “And for me that is a musical phenomenon …  In America there’s a tradition that says that what literature should do is give you the real thing. But for me, the only real thing is the writing.”