I was walking down the street with a copy of James McCourt's new novel, "Now Voyagers: Some Divisions of the Saga of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Oltrano, Authenticated by Persons Represented Therein, Book One: The Night Seas Journey," when I ran into a friend:
"What are you reading?" he asked.
To the unfortunate uninitiated, James McCourt and his fictive (but mythically alive) diva, Mawrdew Czgowchwz (unpronouncable, but "Mardu Gorgeous" is accepted performance practice), is a fairly ambitious topic for a casual street corner encounter. "It's James McCourt's new novel." A glimmer of recognition. "Not Frank McCourt . . . James." How to describe the author of the book under my arm? "If Firbank is like Mozart, James McCourt is like Richard Strauss." It was the best I could come up with.
I picked up "Mawrdew Czgowchwz" a few years ago, led to it by various reviews. The first chapter was dazzling and confounding, I wasn't sure what had just happened to me. Turning back to the first page, I reread it straight through, realizing it was, indeed, dazzling and fabulous. Immediately, I called my friend, Matt, and read the whole chapter to him over the phone. No one's been the same since . . .
It is not for everyone. Perhaps the first sentence will reveal which camp—ahem—you're in.
"There was a time (time out of mind) in the sempiternal progress of divadienst, at that suspensory pause in its career just prior to the advent of what was to be known as "Mawrdolatry," when the cult of Morgana Neri flourished in the hothouse ambiance of the Crossroads Café, in the shadow of the old Times building, across Broadway from the very hotel (a ghostly renovated ruin) where Caruso had sojourned in the great days, whose palmy lobby, once ormolu and velvet, had been transformed into a vast drugstore, and in Caruso's suite a podiatrist had been installed."