In my undergrad, I was introduced to postmodern art and literature during an English class. After reviewing classics such as Heartof Darkness and best-sellers such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, my professor described a novel that was composed of a set of loose pages contained in a box. Readers could begin reading the non-linear novel by picking up any page and could shuffle them into a new order at any point. This unstructured narrative struck a chord for me. How could you read a book like that? Would you be able to understand it? Was it written differently because of its format? I was instantly intrigued.
Although I regularly skip to the final chapter of a book to learn what happens, I still return to the section and continue reading, secure in my knowledge that my favourite characters would survive. But to start a story in the middle and then try to piece it together piece-by-piece seemed like an interesting challenge. Sadly, I lost the name of the novel.
Now that I’m learning more about nonlinear writing, I searched out the book he mentioned. As far as I can tell, the book was Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta. Composition No. 1 is written on 150 pages that are three-quarters filled with text. As noted on this article “Maybe You Should Start Again” from 3:AM Magazine, “each page is both in a sense complete in itself and part of a larger narrative that unfolds differently for each reader depending on the order of the pages,” (p. 1). The author explains that The Unfortunates where the random nature of the middle portions replicate the fragmentary nature of memory and make little difference what order they are read.