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From London to Florence

Baret Magarian to Launch first novel

LEE FOUST

Baret Magarian is a first generation Armenian immigrant born and raised in London, England. When the bustle and hassles of the British metropolis wore this aspiring novelist and literary journalist down, he escaped to Florence. “In Florence I found sunshine, some good friends, and the tranquility I needed to concentrate on writing,” says Magarian on the eve of the publication of his first novel, the epic The Fabrications, coming later this spring from the prestigious New York-based Pleasure Boat Studio. “Florence is a complex city. It teases, taunts, remaining aloof—one can’t help but love its beauty. As Mary McCarthy said, Florence is like the Platonic form of a thing, undiluted and unfiltered, it captures essences where stark reality is blurry. That’s inspiring for an artist.”
The Fabrications, although re-considered, honed, and launched from Florence is very much the product of Magarian’s previous London life—which he spent writing literary journalism for The Guardian (among others) and working for avant-garde publishing maverick John Calder. The novel focuses on Oscar Babel, projectionist of a dilapidated Camden Cinema, who’s catapulted to overnight stardom in the London art world and ends up a media-produced guru, and finally a kind of new Messiah by novel’s end. As in a medieval painting of a dying man, two figures sit squarely on Oscar’s shoulders, writer Daniel Bloch and publicist Ryan Rees. Angel and demon, Bloch and Rees wrestle not necessarily for Oscar’s soul, but over his image and fate certainly. When the novelist Bloch writes a fiction about his friend the events of the narrative begin happening in real life, much to Oscar’s bemusement. Then, in a more Mephistophelian manner, publicist Rees picks the projectionist up in mid-transformation and re-constructs him anew into a media darling and a kind of prophet of sensuality for an alienated digital age. But, if the New Testament and Tommy teach us anything, it’s that being the new messiah is a tough gig.
These two colliding visions of metamorphosis, the one rather ancient, which uses art as a metaphor for creation in time, and the other our somewhat facile modern day public image ltd., give The Fabrications its brilliant and complex dual meditation upon soul and image, spirituality and spin, philosophy and satire. Never more prescient than in our post-fact world—in which reality TV show figures who never read books but watch endless hours of television hold the highest political offices in the land, The Fabrications’ satire is spot on (as the Brits say). The Ryan Rees character could easily stand-in for a Karl Rove—if Rove, rather than producing silky presidents out of sow’s ears rather conjured up new messiahs.
However, as a long-time reader of serious literature, and as a writer myself, I most enjoyed Oscar’s tentative, mysterious, and ultimately profound relationship with his friend Bloch. The concept of writing in things and events goes back to medieval readings of the Old Testament that posit that God, the ultimate creator, wrote morality through people and events—what we today call history. Bloch’s conjuring up a fictional version of his friend Oscar and building an important destiny for this ordinary man who projects movies onto a screen (like Plato’s forms onto the cave walls) is a tour-de-force of the literary imagination. I couldn’t recommend The Fabrications more strongly; it’s a wondrous novel both cleverly satirical of our spectacle-based society and philosophically profound, a rare accomplishment.

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