With a Zero at its Heart at Goodreads
With a Zero at its Heart at IBList
Charles Lambert's Website
Among the many talented contemporary writers I've discovered through the excellent periodical The Fiction Desk is Charles Lambert. Having read and reviewed (positively) his two contributions to the publication, the short story "All I Want" from TFD1: Various Authors, and the novelette "Pretty Vacant" from TFD2: All These Little Worlds, I offered him, via Goodreads, a review of his latest book at Casual Debris. Within a few short days I received a copy of this very attractive little book, and took it with me to London and Istanbul, starting it in the former and completing the last few chapters in the latter.
Because life is riddled with all sorts of minor experiences, along Charing Cross Road I visited the numerous second-hand bookshops there, and on the shelves of Any Amount of Books was a copy of With a Zero at its Heart, selling for 6£, just under half the cover price. (In excellent condition, if you're interested. It might still be there, though this was about four months ago.) Lambert's book is, like life, riddled with an assortment of experiences, major or minor, each equally significant to the bearer.
24 themed chapters.
Each with 10 numbered paragraphs.
Each paragraph with precisely 120 words.
The sum of a life.
Toss in a final paragraph of a hundred and twenty words and you have a work made up of 28,120 words total. In this oulipian challenge, Lambert's writing is precise, as each paragraph, whether detailing an event or describing an object, must resonate on an emotional level in order that each fragment carry its own significance. There are some sections I found to be stronger than others, with "Danger" and "Colours" being among the weaker, but overall the work is consistent and engaging.
These fragments make up a whole that features a sensitive man in search of self via objects, sex and a plethora of emotions and experiences. There is no traditional plot, but the style offers the opportunity to form character more vividly than most plotted stories would. Removing traditional plot removes the character-building limitations that a structured story-line normally requires. Removing structure also lends the work a sense of chaos, making fiction more like life (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). This is particularly appropriate here since the work is most likely semi-biographical.
The title references paragraph two of the section on animals: "He's presented with three white mice in a plywood box, divided by a wall with a zero at its heart." (p.38) These sections ate like chambers of the heart, divided and yet connected by an opening, making the heart whole. The novel is like a set of chambers made whole by its protagonist, his life and self being the zero that connects the various experiences and emotions depicted in the book.
The book is attractively designed by Vaughan Oliver, and the internal formatting and design are great (too bad about that typo on page 60). Another error is more technical. On page 129 watching the excellent Psycho in the cinema, "[t]hey both spot Hitchcock pass in front of a car." In the actual Psycho the director is standing outside the door, silhouetted in the glass, when Janet Leigh as Marion Crane walks in. Minor but distracting, at least for a Psycho(tic) fan. Though perhaps he is only pausing as he is passing by a car.
Note that this review is late so as not to conflict with my review of the same book at Black Heart Magazine, which you can read here.