TITLE: The Unauthorized Biography of Ezra Maas
AUTHOR: Daniel James
GENRE: Post-modern Noir, Biography
PUBLISHER: Dead Ink Books
PUBLICATION DATE: 22 November, 2018
MY RATING: 5 stars and more (Immensely engaging, 10/10 Page-turner, Unputdownable, Edifying)
FAVORITE QUOTES: The book is full of amazing quotes, listing a few:
- “I wonder whether there will be a last page, or will the book keep writing itself after I am gone? It’s always changing. Sometimes I forget how it began. It started as a biography.”
- “I have this theory that we’re all detectives. Everyday we question the world around us, search for meaning, and seek to uncover hidden truths about life and ourselves. I think that’s why the detective Genre is so enduring. There’s something fundamentally human about asking question and trying to unravel the mysteries we are faced with. Every time we open a book & began to read we’re playing detectives, whether it’s a crime story or not. Every reader is a detective, searching through the author’s words for clues, trying to piece together the literary puzzle, and discover the meaning locked within the text”.
- “There are no accidents. At least that’s what they say. And yet almost everything in our lives turns on chance. How much do we really control? And how much of that control is an illusion?”
- ” That’s the beauty of a handwritten letter. As soon as you put pen to paper your words have a presence in the world. They become physical and permanent. There is no erase and rewind.”
- ” We are all part child, parent (both father and mother, grandfather, grandmother, and great-grandfather…), and adult ego states, which fluctuate through the inner turmoil of trauma in past experiences of which we have lived.”
- ” Why did you want to become a writer? -To disappear. I read for the same reason. The only difference when I’m writing is that I get to create the world. Time and space contract, everything around me fades away, and I’m somewhere else entirely. I’m their with the character, in their world. It’s the same feeling I have when I’m reading a book and become completely absorbed by the story. I pass over into the text. When I return I find myself looking at the world around me with fresh eyes, a new perspective, greater knowledge, more empathy. That’s the power of fiction. It can change how you think, how you feel, what you see- everything. I wanted to have that power.”
Note: Thanks a bunch to the author for sending me a signed paperback copy of the novel in exchange for an honest and unbiased opinion. The views are solely mine.
Ezra Maas is dead. The famously reclusive artist vanished without a trace seven years ago whilst working on his final masterpiece, but his body was never found. While the Maas foundation prepares to announce his death, journalist Daniel James finds himself hired to write the untold story of the artist’s life – But this is no ordinary book. The deeper James delves into the myth of Ezra Maas, the more he is drawn into a nightmarish world of fractured identities and sinister doubles.
A chilling literary labyrinth, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas deftly blends postmodern noir with pseudo-biography, letters, phone transcripts, documents, emails and newspaper clippings to create a story like no other before it.
“A brilliant, genre-defying debut novel from a major new talent.. a haunting and enigmatic noir and a stylish, multi-layered biography.. a future classic.”
– Bryan Talbot, Eisner Award-Winning writer and artist
(Grandville, The Tale Of One Bad Rat, Alice In Sunderland
“This book is dangerous. You need to know that before you begin.”
“This is not a biography. It is a true story.”
When the author first approached me asking for a review of his debut novel, I at once decided to give it a go since the blurb of the story really intrigued me and anything about art & artists have always fascinated me. And now, I must admit that I’ve LOVED this book so much that I am afraid I might not be able to verbalize my experience appropriately and my review might not do full justice to this brilliantly executed work of art .
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy studying ‘the science of being’. – Aristotle, Metaphysics.
Metaphysical detective friction (also known as – post– modern noir / Anti-detective fiction / existential noir) is a kind of detective story – the history of which encompasses writers as diverse as Poe, Borges, Robbe–Grillet, Auster and Stephen king. Unlike most detective stories that promise the solution to mysteries at the end, metaphysical detective stories end with a question rather than an answer. While the basic story is about hunting down missing persons or scavenging for the solutions to the mysteries, it ends up raising various epistemological and metaphysical questions which include direct questions about the narrative, interpretation, subjectivity, the nature of reality, identity and the limits of knowledge.
As Michael Holquist (1972) said:
“the metaphysical detective story… is not concerned to have a neat ending in which all questions are answered, and can be forgotten.”
Detective fiction is one of the genres that the novel is associated with. The novel can be further connected to other genres like New journalism, Biography, Auto-fiction, Postmodernism and the manuscript can also be classified as an Encyclopaedic narrative for the presence of 500+ footnotes and references which provide vast amount of information and knowledge about science, quantum mechanics, literature, art and artists, various artistic revolutionary movements, occultism, history, fiction, the process of writing, authorship, and so much more.
The book can be essentially categorized as ‘rhizomatic’ in nature- a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ (1972-1980) project. It is what Deleuze calls “an image of thought”, based on the botanical term ‘rhizome’, that apprehends multiplicity. They wrote: “Rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.”
So it is quite apprehendable now, that the book defies any particular categorization for it is a blend of various literary genres which contribute to the fine quality of the novel.
This is one great quality of the book which deserves a great round of applause! The complexity of the novel makes it worth the read. The amalgamation of variety of literary genres into a single piece makes the book immensely engaging and stimulating. It made me genuinely cerebrate about the contents and the nature of the book so much so that, whilst reading, I could picturize myself as a detective, as lost and clueless as Daniel himself, who was willing to take any risk, desperately searching for clues hidden behind each and every leaf of the book filled with pure enigma and ambiguity.
I could feel the thrill and suspense right from the moment I started reading the book. It will grasp you, puzzle you, mystify you from the very beginning and will leave you completely befuddled for a long while after you finish reading. Such is the power of the narrative!
Now, let’s talk about the nucleus of the story-Ezra Maas- the hugely influential and the famously reclusive radical artist who can be compared to the likes of Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Thomas Pynchon, R.B.Kitaj, Joseph Beuys, Banksy, Samuel Beckett, Damian Hirst, David Lynch, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mike McInnerney, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, Bridget Riley, and many more. Ezra Maas was believed to have been born in Britain on the 1st of January in the year 1950 and he made his first reputation as an artist in the New York Pop art scene in the late 1960s before going on to win, and receive nominations for, a host of prestigious awards- including the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Turner Prize. Unlike his contemporaries, Maas has always maintained a secret life, unhindered by the influence of media paparazzi as he believed that seclusion was cardinal for an artist who wished to devote his time and life for a greater and a revolutionary cause. His sequestration from the public life continued from the 1970s to late 90s, and then in mid 2000s, Maas announced that he was completely retiring from public life to concentrate on his final and most important creation.
Maas is an enigmatic and an ingenious character. There’s no such word in the dictionary that could fittingly describe Maas and his art. Many stories, numerous rumors surrounded the artist throughout his lifetime, for he was a recluse who self-consciously chose to stay in solitude and let his work speak for him. His artworks have always been managed and displayed in exhibitions and other forums by the rich, litigious and rather sinister organization- The Maas Foundation. In the late 1960s, Maas developed a huge cult following, consisting of mainly progressive minded youngsters who were devoted to Maas and his artworks, invariably and maniacally searching for hidden meanings and secret messages in his elliptical, Delphic and otherworldly paintings, sculptures and other artworks, which had the potential to change people’s notion about the world and drive them insane!. Maas’s reclusive and arcane personality further influenced the huge cult following as everyone had possible stories and versions in their mind surrounding Maas.
As Blue Box Gallery owner, Max Howard said in the book:
“He (Maas) described fame as an unmanageable surge and confessed to feeling uncomfortable with the attention it brought him…”
In 2005, Maas was officially declared missing by the Maas Foundation and Helena Mass (Maas’s wife), who admitted that she hadn’t seen Maas since 2002.
There were sundry hearsays and tittle-tattles surrounding Maas’s disappearance and his most anticipated, “final” artwork. After Maas’s disappearance, all his artworks, sculptures, paintings were removed from all the public and social forums and newspaper reports about him were subdued by the Maas Foundation. It was almost as if Maas and his art never existed! After six years following Maas’s disappearance, Daniel James, the super-talented and the much-talked-about Journalist, received a mysterious phone call at 3 am in the night, the client on the other end offering a huge sum to Daniel in exchange for simply (so it sounds) writing an unauthorized biography of Maas and finding the truth about his life and disappearance.
Chapters labeled as ‘Daniel James’ in the book, show his quest for the truth and the answers to the mysteries encircling Maas’s sphinxlike enigmatic life. The world around Daniel alters as he delves deeper into Maas’s life, unsheathing the answers to the myths surrounding his life and confronting the various hurdles and perils that come on his way by putting his own life into jeopardy. I felt this was one of the most interesting and brilliantly executed sections of book as Daniel talks about his journey throughout the world, beautifully portraying his feelings and his subtle fears surrounding the manuscript he held in his hands. Unlike “clichéd” biographical narratives which only present and display the life of the subject of the biography, The Unauthorized Biography of Ezra Maas is essentially the story of Maas as well as the biographer himself, because Daniel feels it is indispensable to include the changes happening in the biographer’s day-to-day life concerning the person he is writing the book on. This is a brilliant notion! You can’t scour for the truth about somebody else’s life, by ignoring your own!
In 2013, as Daniel approaches the end of the book, writing his final pages, he realizes that he is playing with fire. The manuscript that he has been working on, is the reason behind the perils occurring in the biographer’s life. The world Daniel has entered is full of malice and pitfalls. Daniel decides to destroy his manuscript and then shortly after he disappears and goes missing completely.
One of Daniel’s most trusted friends retrieves whatever is left of the manuscript and takes the responsibility of arranging the papers in order and compiling them into a book so that the public could know the truth about the life of Ezra Maas as well as the biographer. The person in the book is addressed as ‘the anonymous’, who besides compiling Daniel’s works, also has added some of his own notes and references in the book.
Yet, it is quite surprising that after going missing for years, Daniel James re-appears after quite some time, publishing his novel with the Dead Ink Books- A publishing company that “brings the most challenging and experimental new writing out from the underground.” Daniel has appeared for various public interviews promoting and talking about his debut novel-the one which has changed his life!
Whilst reading, I could feel a certain connection with Daniel’s character- the dilemma and the precariousness that he was encountering; the fear of life that kept him on edge; the untoward alterations happening in his day-to-day life, clutched my heart so tight that I bet any reader would feel an attachment to Daniel’s character, so much so that he/she could see him living and breathing, talking and writing, right in front of their eyes. This is one of those many qualities of the novel that makes sure that the readers remember and carry the story in their hearts for a long time after finishing reading.
Now, the prime question which will pique every reader’s interest is- how much of this is true?
Albeit there are evidences which corroborate the existence of Maas, or more specifically the Maas Foundation, the readers will always remain in incertitude regarding whatever is written in the book about Mass’s life, his whereabouts and his disappearance.
Maas, throughout his lifetime, has always allowed the rumors and gossips to take the center stage. He camouflaged his own identity and true self by permitting the canards to fully sway away the undesired attention from media and the world, so that he could entirely focus on his artwork and personal being. The reclusiveness of the artist makes the biography highly susceptible to interpretations for anything about the artist can’t be convinced to be true. This allows the reader to interpret the story in whichever way they want, thus permitting the reader to act as a detective who’s confronting a discombobulating puzzle and trying to unravel the possible truth hidden behind the mysteries. This is another quality of the book which makes the reader genuinely think about it’s contents and guarantees a permanent place in the reader’s heart.
As Dr Claire Nally, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature, talks about the manuscript:
“…it’s really difficult to work out where fiction ends, and fact begins (even if we can establish ‘Truth’ in any real sense, in relation to lived experience and memories). It’s always partial, and therefore open to interpretation. In some ways, all biographies are bio-fictions, but it is especially difficult to navigate when the subject of the biography is so wrapped up in his own fictions.”
At times, I felt it was Ezra Maas who was impersonating Daniel James, narrating a supposedly false story about himself and playing yet another game to build a flawless public facade. Again, I felt the story is pure fiction as it gets quite implausible, illusory and surrealistic at times. As I mentioned earlier, the narrative is open to interpretations.
I loved that the author has put up several perspicacious and introspective quotes at the beginning of the chapters. The book is highly edifying and rich in knowledge. The presence of the highly informative and availing footnotes by the anonymous add an extra flavor to the narrative. It helps the reader follow the story with ease and adroitness. The footnotes also include the anonymous person’s take on the manuscript and his opinion on Daniel James.
To sum up, I’d say that this is one heck of a good read which makes sure that the readers retain the story in their hearts for quite some time. Honestly speaking, this is one of those rare books which I’ve added to the list of my most Precious Reads. The excellency of the novel is worth every praise and appreciation. The story will certainly keep on nudging my mind for a long while.
I would 100/100 recommend this book to anyone who relishes anything related to art and artists, biographies and detective stories and of course, outlandish narratives. This book will make you think out-of-the-box and will frequently question your senses, allowing you to introspect and connect with the contents of the book. This is my First 5 Star Read of the Year and I know my review hasn’t done enough justice to the narrative nor have I successfully been able to convey my feelings regarding the same. I would request you all to give this book a try and see for yourself what ability it possesses!
Would like to end my review with a saying by Helen Exley:
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labelled: “This could change your life.”
About the Author
Daniel James is a writer, journalist and magazine editor, living and working in Newcastle upon Tyne, in the UK. His debut novel – The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas – is out now from Dead Ink Books. Daniel is the founder and editor of The Bleed, an independent multidisciplinary arts magazine with contributors from New York and Japan. In 2016, he was a member of the Live Theatre Writers Group and completed his first full-length play. As a journalist, Daniel was a finalist for the Press Association UK Young News Writer of the Year, before going on to work as a senior reporter on a daily newspaper and feature writer for The Culture Magazine.
Ezra Maas has been longlisted for Not The Booker Prize 2019 by The Guardian Newspaper. If you have enjoyed reading ‘The Unauthorized Biography of Ezra Maas’, then do make sure to vote for it so that it gets on the shortlist for Not The Booker Prize 2019. It will help the book reach a much greater audience. The book deserves all the fame! Voting is officially open now and runs until midnight on Monday August 5. All you have to do is:
1. Go to the Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2019/jul/29/not-the-booker-longlist-vote-now-to-decide-the-2019-shortlist
2. Create a Guardian ID using your email address.
3. Vote for the book in the comments thread below the Not the Booker 2019 article and leave a short review (around 100 words). Alongside your review, vote for a second book from the longlist from a different publisher. No review needed.
4. And that’s it!
For additional info contact Daniel James
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