Eunoia by Christian Bök is a book of chapters where each one limits itself to using a solitary vowel. Thus in each of the first five chapters, Bök uses only A in the first, E in the second, I in the third, O in the fourth and U in the fifth. The back cover proclaimed that “A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges”, yet I found nothing “courtly” about the letter A, with sentences such as:
“A gal can grab a man’s balls and wank a man’s shaft; a man can grasp a gal’s bra and spank a gal’s ass.”
“A mad labman at a lab crafts an anthrax gas that can waft past all walls at a stalag and harm war camps that lack standard gas masks.”
Bök however did write a sexy passage in each of the chapters, yet only Chapter U was classed as “obscene”.
I have read other texts with stringent restrictions on writing, and they seemed awkward with contrived nonsensical sentences. Bök kept his sentences flowing, with minimal non sequiturs to push the action forward. In his formatting, he placed eleven or twelve lines of text into a square paragraph, centred in the middle of each page. It seemed repetitious and unpleasing to encounter repeated paragraphs all beginning with the name Hassan or with the conjunction Whenever. Could he have written those two chapters first, only to diversify his sentence structure by the time he arrived at I, O and U? The shortest chapter was, predictably, U as it only contained five pages. Bök dedicated each chapter to a person who fit the bill, so to speak, so I was pleased to see that Chapter O was dedicated to Yoko Ono, yet Chapter E was dedicated to neither Ellen DeGeneres nor Renée Zellweger (but instead to René Crevel).
Many passages were a delight to read and reread, which I have cited below:
“Pilgrims, digging in shifts, dig till midnight in mining pits, chipping flint with picks, drilling schist with drills, striking it rich mining zinc.”
“Most sloths, too slow to scoot from log to log, loll on mossgrown knolls of cottonwood to chomp on bollworms.”
“Troop doctors who stop blood loss from torn colons or shot torsos go to Kosovo to work pro bono for poor commonfolk, most of whom confront horrors born of long pogroms.”
“When French jewellers embezzle De Beers, the stern execs there never detect the embezzlement; hence, the theft seems perfect.”
Chapter U was followed by much shorter chapters, one of which, entitled “Vowels”, was composed of eighteen lines using words containing only the six letters found in the word vowels. I didn’t enjoy the chapter “And Sometimes”, which made no sense in its words that employed only Y as a vowel, along with the interjections brr, hmm, shh and zzz. Bök also used Scrabble stalwarts cwm and crwth in this chapter, yet a remarkable number of words in any of the single-vowel chapters are not acceptable in the Scrabble lexicon, including the book’s own title.