Libertarianism has never struck me as more than anarchism with a day job (which comment will probably bring a heap of abuse upon this site). But the good folks at the Ludwig von Mises Institute have brought at least one benefit to lovers of neglected books: the ability to download one of the best books I’ve ever written about, a novel so intelligent, adult, and female in its sensibility that it’s almost unfathomable that it’s not sitting on every bookstore’s shelves alongside the works of Jane Austen: Never Ask the End (the full URL: http://mises.org/books/never_ask_the_end_paterson.pdf).
When I featured the book about three years ago, I wrote:
The story in Never Ask the End is almost ridiculously simple: Marta Brown and Pauline Gardiner, two American women in their early forties, are visiting Paris. They have dinner with an old friend of Marta’s, Russ Girard, another American, who’s now an executive with a firm based in Antwerp. Russ invites the women to visit him in Antwerp. They spend a weekend together in the Ardennes. They agree to meet again in London, but Russ is delayed and arrives after Pauline has to board a liner back to the U.S. Marta and Russ enjoy London for a day or so, then return to Paris together, where Russ then heads off to Italy on business.
The extraordinary richness of Never Ask the End is certainly not to be found in the plot. It’s most definitely a book written in the wake of Ulysses, Virginia Woolf, and other early stream of consciousness novels.”[T]he mind is a deep pool, froth and ripples and straws on the surface and God knows what down below, water weeds and drowned things,” Marta thinks to herself at one point, and Paterson freely switches between physical events and the thoughts of her characters throughout the novel. Even for an experienced current-day reader, accustomed to narrative techniques of considerable complexity, Never Ask the End can be a challenge at first. I have to confess that I stopped after about seventy-five pages and started over again, reading more slowly and carefully the second time, in order to catch and keep track of the references to past experiences Paterson seeds in the flow of her characters’ thoughts.
Fortunately, there is much to reward the careful reader.
To tell the truth, I really didn’t do Never Ask the End justice in my original post. It inspired me to seek out and write about Paterson’s three other contemporary novels (she wrote several historical novels that are scarce as hen’s teeth and probably about as rewarding to locate): The Shadow Riders, The Golden Vanity, and If It Prove Fair Weather. All three are fine novels that deserve to be brought back in print, but Never Ask the End is a genuine masterpiece. (Actually, I consider If It Prove Fair Weather something of a masterpiece, too, but more on the order of a minimalist masterpiece along the lines of Henry Green’s Nothing, something one out of two readers probably wants to hurl out the window after the first twenty pages).
To the reader willing to take a while to tune into Paterson’s unique voice and style, Never Ask the End offers a wealth of pleasures: razor-sharp but deft observations of the manners of women and men, a running commentary on American and European life full of wit and historical insight, and literary references as dense as anything in Joyce but far more effortless.
So, until some publisher puts this book into formal print, let’s salute libertarianism for a moment and download our individualistic copies of Never Ask the End.