The third prologue of The Museum Of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) by Macedonio Fernández, titled “Prologue To Eternity”, begins
When the world hadn’t yet been created and there was only nothingness, God heard it said: it’s all been written, it’s all been said, it’s all been done. “Maybe that’s already been said, too,” he replied out of an ancient, yawning Void. And he began.
It is often asserted that all has already been done, and Macedonio Fernández has acknowledged this axiom within his novel, a book that bears an inventive form I have never seen before.
The Museum Of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) is ostensibly a novel, but it is so much more. Or less, depending how you look at it. It is the working up to a novel. The book, as translated from the Spanish by Margaret Schwartz, is 328 pages long. Though of those, the numerous prologues consume the first 122 pages. Some of these prologues bear headings such as:
Prologue To My Authorial Persona
Letter To The Critics
To Readers Who Will Perish If They Don’t Know What The Novel Is About
Prologue To The Never-Seen
A Character Before Her First Appearance
Also A Prologue
Guide To The Prologues (Warning Prologue)
To The Window-Shopping Reader
Two Rejected Characters
First Prologue Of The Novel For The Abridged Reader
For Those Not Expert In Metaphysics
Prologue Of Indecision
Prologue For A Borrowed Character
Prologue Of Authorial Despair
Prologue That Feels Like A Novel
One prologue, titled “The Man Who Feigned To Live”, is solely a three-page footnote. In the prologue titled “For The Reader Who Skips Around”, the author addresses the reader who tends to read a book out of order:
To the reader who skips around, however, I accommodate myself. You read my entire novel without knowing it, because I scattered the telling of the whole novel before I started, and so you turned into an unknowing orderly reader. With me, the reader who skips around is most likely to read in an orderly fashion.
I wanted to distract you, not correct you, because contrary to appearances, you are a wise reader, since you practice inter-reading, which makes the most forceful impression, in keeping with my theory that characters and events that are only insinuated or skillfully truncated are the most memorable.
I dedicate my novel to you, Skip-Around Reader; you, in turn, should be grateful to me for a new sensation: reading in order. On the other hand, and orderly reader will experience a new way of skipping: the orderly reading of a skip-around author.
In the prologue “The Characters’ Novel”, Fernández claims
Every character only halfway exists, because none was ever introduced who wasn’t take by half or more from “real life” people.
Besides Eterna, the book’s characters include: The Lover, The President, The Sweetheart, Maybegenius, and The Traveler, though these characters act as their own people within the work, they are archetypes compiled from people, either from life or from literature.
And what of the actual ‘novel’ that begins more than halfway through the book, at the conclusion of all the prologues? Sadly, the latter half leaves something to be desired. Not because it was bad, per say, but because it followed such brilliance and inventiveness of its copious prologues. Though, of course, the prologues would be meaningless if they did not precede a novel, and, if published alone, their rambling philosophical musings would, at best, be just another manifesto of what is or could be.
Reading the book was a lesson wherein the book was teaching me how to read it. It is, in a way, an open-source novel, because it reveals not only itself, but also the intention and invention of itself. It was not simply created in private and then shown to the world; we as readers get to see Fernández at work. He reveals his ideas behind the naming of his characters. We see him double back in self-doubt. We attempt to follow his convoluted ideas of reality and fiction, and how they are the same or nothing alike. We witness Fernández as he reveals himself to be the humble know-it-all and timid showoff that he is.