ROBERT ZEND's posthumously published novel Nicolette (Cacanadadada, 160 pages, $12.95 paper) will confound as Many readers as it intrigues, I suspect. The poet/novelist/documentary producer, who fled Hungary for Canada at the time of the 1956 Uprising and died in Toronto in 1985, has always been a "difficult" read insofar as little of his work has been linear or narrative in the traditional sense: much of it incorporates visual imagery and typographic play, and employs language that, though set down conventionally on the page, often with intense passion and poetry, does not convey its meaning at first glance.
The record of an intense, sometimes cerebral, sometimes very physical, love affair between an elderly man (Robert) and a Young woman (Nicolette), whom he first met when she was five years old, Zend's novel moves gracefully back and forth in time and geography. It mixes lyrical prose, poetry, letters, narrative, and visual and typographic curiosities, while the omnipresent author and eponymous protagonist direct the reader with asides, instructions, and explanations. In essence, Nicolette is the literary equivalent of an impressionist or even pointillist painting, a composition of light and shadow, colour and movement.
Few novels succeed in conveying the nature of obsessive love as well as Nicolette; and Zend's non-traditional techniques are instrumental in elucidating the way such a love begins, develops, and has its conclusion, for love is rarely linear, and mostly a thing of fragments and images, fleeting moments of joy and Iong hours of doubt and self-doubt. Zend gives us all of these, and even a "happy ending." Too much.