the combinations

!COMBO front cover medium

a novel, by Louis Armand

ISBN 978-0-9931955-5-6. 2nd edition. Paperback. 888pp + xxxvii. Publication date: November 2016. Equus Press: London.

Order from Bookshop.org, from Barnes and Noble, or via Print-on-Demand (paperback only); or try the Kindle edition.


Shortlisted for the 2016 Not the Booker prize.

The “European anti-novel” in all its unrepentant glory is here in The Combinations, following in the tradition of Sterne, Rabelais, Cervantes, Joyce, Perec. Kafka’s The Trial meets Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

In 8 octaves, 64 chapters and 888 pages, Louis Armand’s The Combinations is an unprecedented “work of attempted fiction” that combines the beauty & intellectual exertion that is chess with the panorama of futility & chaos that is Prague (a.k.a. “Golem City”), across the 20th-century and before/after. Golem City, the ship of fools boarded by the famed D’s (e.g. John) and K’s (e.g. Edward) of the 16th/17th centuries (who attempted and failed to turn lead into gold), and the infamous H’s (e.g. Adolf, e.g. Reinhard) of the 20th (who attempted and succeeded in turning flesh into soap). Armand’s prose weaves together the City’s thousand-and-one fascinating tales with a deeply personal account of one lost soul set adrift amid the early-90s’ awakening from the nightmare that was the previous half-century of communist Mitteleuropa. The Combinations is a text whose 1) erudition dazzles, 2) structure humbles, 3) monotony never bores, 4) humour disarms, 5) relentlessness overwhelms, 6) storytelling captivates, 7) poignancy remains poignant, and 8) style simply never exhausts itself. Your move, Reader.

“Louis Armand’s The Combinations covers more linguistic territory than Dupriez’s Dictionary of Literary Devices and Vico’s On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians COMBINED. Worthy!” —Gregory L. Ulmer

“One of the most importand novels published in English in the last twenty years” —Josef Straka

“The Combinations is the greatest novel of the 21st century.” —Karl Wolff, National Book Critics Circle / Driftless Area Review

“There are grand political and moral themes here, as well as more personal explorations of loneliness, loss and intellectual instability. […] Art isn’t just there to distract and amuse us and to seek easy pleasure in this work is to miss the point. Armand has interesting and ambitious things to convey, whether we like it or not.[…] There’s no doubt that Armand is aiming for something profound and challenging, and it is clear that The Combinations is the product of hard work and hard thought. It’s a book that deserves attention.” —Sam Jordison, The Guardian

“Armand has written an important and corrosive novel, which is a commitment to creativity in the face of absurdity, a politics of avant garde literary concentration and experience that knows, as Camus had it, that: ‘The innocent is the person who explains nothing.'” —Richard Marshall, 3AM magazine

“When an ambitious novelist or playwright decides to compose a modern realistic work—i.e. one imitating das Chaos der Zeit, as Hölderlin called the confusion of his own time, having no idea of what things were to become within a couple more centuries, that is, now, before our eyes—, the dusty so-called classical units become unexpectedly useful again. They provide a center to the chaos. Joyce’s Ulysses happens all in Dublin, in a single day. Beckett’s plays are models that even Boileau would have approved of. Now Louis Armand, the Australian writer who has lived in Prague for over twenty years at last count, has produced a major modern epic “novel,” having Prague instead of Dublin for locale. At about 900 pages, it is a good deal longer than Joyce’s Ulysses: if you enjoy the latter, you will find The Combinations to be almost 200 pages more fun and you will not want to miss it.”—Ricardo Nirenberg, Offcourse

“[A]n astonishing creation, a literary journey that I am glad to have experienced […] It demands time, so much time, and attention.”—Jackie Law, Neverimitate

“Louis Armand’s The Combinations is a ‘great novel’ — long and complex. It exemplifies remarkably the possibilities of the genre and contradicts the contemporary obsession with its decline and commodification. The Combinations unites several narrations, many gnomic and proverbial expressions, various literary frames and historical data/backgrounds.  Humor, puns and highlighted commonplaces — however slightly altered by Armand’s ‘écriture’: ‘A man’s only the sum of his whatsits, after all’ — make the reader able to preserve their own identity and point of view. Comments and pauses are allowed, as shown by the ‘Intermission’ section. That applies to future amateurs and defines the novel’s play upon continuity and discontinuity. In its construction, The Combinations compares with David Mitchell’s novels; by its balance between ‘totalisation’ and ‘detotalisation’ with Michel Butor’s Degrés. Louis Armand’s questioning humor, use of commonplaces, and rewriting of many typological stories recall the reflexive attitude of Robert Coover. The cover of The Combinations should not be ignored either, in that its collage offers a precise introduction to the novel. The Combinations should actually be viewed as starting with its front cover and ending with its back cover. That just confirms the questioning power of the novel, since the cover does not show any text, except for the author’s name and the novel’s title in quite small print.” —Jean Bessière, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris-III

“This ‘European anti-novel,’ as it has been called, is really much more than what it claims to be. It’s a vertiginous journey into the underbelly of a Central European world called ‘Golem City.’ At once humorous and erudite, stylish and poised, it will entrance the reader with its seemingly endless digressions that never bore. For anyone desiring to delve into Prague’s rich history—not as an academic lesson, but as an aesthetic experience—The Combinations is a must-read and certainly the best book of the year.” —Anthony Marais

Over the last fifteen years, Louis Armand has accumulated an extraordinary backlist which, while mostly under the radar of the mainstream literary media, has consistently attracted high praise from respected independent journals, magazines, newspapers & websites like 3:AM, nthposition, Litro, The Rumpus, Brooklyn Rail, Pank, LA Times, Bookslut, Numéro Cinq & Rain Taxi. His books have been shortlisted for the Guardian newspaper’s Not-the-Booker Prize and the IMPAC Award.

Louis Armand is a writer and visual artist who has lived in Prague since 1994. He has worked as an editor and publisher, and as a subtitles technician at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and is an editor of VLAK magazine. He is the author of eight novels, including Breakfast at Midnight in 2012, “a perfect modern noir, presenting Kafka’s Prague as a bleak, monochrome singularity of darkness, despair and edgy, dry existentialist hardboil” (Richard Marshall, 3:AM) and Cairo (2014; short listed for the Guardian newspaper’s Not-the-Booker Prize)). Described as “Robert Pinget does Canetti (in drag in Yugoslavia),” Armand’s third novel Clair Obscur was published by Equus in 2011. His previous novel, Menudo (Antigen), was hailed as “unrelenting, a flying wedge, an encyclopaedia of the wasteland, an uzi assault pumping desolation lead… inspiring!” (Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown).

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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
May 2022
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