The Fermata

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The Fermata
The Fermata cover.jpg
First edition with fermata (pause) music notation
AuthorNicholson Baker
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
March 1994
Media typePrint (hardback, paperback)
LC Class93026492

The Fermata is a 1994 erotic novel by Nicholson Baker. It is about a man named Arno Strine who can stop time, and uses this ability to embark on a series of sexual adventures. Like Baker's previous novel Vox, The Fermata was controversial amongst critics yet was also a bestseller.[1]


Arno Strine, a temp in Boston, discovers he can stop time when he is a young man. He works on this power, and learns how to trigger and control these time stoppages. However, instead of becoming rich or a diabolic criminal, Strine becomes an elaborate voyeur. He stops time so that he can see women naked, and eventually creates scenarios that he can watch after he allows time to start again. But despite his enjoyment of this power, Arno wants a real relationship, and he overcomes his shyness to begin a relationship. When he finally consummates this relationship, his power to stop time passes to his girlfriend, whose own time adventures begin. Arno works on the story of this time power, under the title "The Fermata."


The view of critics on the book was mixed. Writing in the Daily Telegraph Victoria Glendinning stated "it is a moral challenge to be faced or it is simply meant as outrageous comedy, or as material for the sex-war, or as a portrait of a literary psychopath. Or it is an expression of male resentment of female autonomy. Whatever was intended, it is a repellent book. Goodbye Nicholson Baker, goodbye for ever."[1] Commenting in the New York Times on the book's many pornographic episodes, Michele Slung said "I was either extremely bored or mildly offended by almost all of them, but mostly bored."[2] In the opinion of The Times Literary Supplement, "where The Mezzanine and Vox were bristling with originality, this is a novel of one idea and 1,000 jokes."[1]

In contrast, Tom Bissell argued in GQ that The Fermata was an "unlikely masterpiece" which set a "very high lit-porn standard."[3] The Independent judged it "playfully erotic."[4] Summing up the debate in the London Review of Books, Adam Mars-Jones wrote that "Nicholson Baker has chosen as the premise and conclusion of his novel an idea that contemporary culture has much difficulty with: the innocence of male sexual desire" and opined that "if Baker had found a way of dramatising his theme, it would be a braver and less self-satisfied book."[5]

Screen adaptations[edit]

In 2002, Neil Gaiman wrote some drafts of a screenplay based on The Fermata, to be directed by Robert Zemeckis.[6] Gaiman's screenplay would have de-emphasized all the masturbation in the plot; instead he described his approach to the material as "Annie Hall with time-stopping."[7][8] In 2013, the project was described as "dormant".[9] In 2014 it was reported that Paramount Television would collaborate with Zemeckis on a television drama series based on The Fermata, to be written by David Hollander.[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c O'Mahony, John (11 January 2003). "Profile: Nicholson Baker". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 November 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  2. ^ Slung, Michele (13 February 1994). "Magic Voyeurism". New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  3. ^ Bissell, Tom (5 August 2011). "A Review of Nicholson Baker's Latest Book "House of Holes"". GQ. Archived from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  4. ^ Thorne, Matt (2 September 2011). "House of Holes, By Nicholson Baker". The Independent. Archived from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  5. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam (24 March 1994). "Larceny". London Review of Books. Archived from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  6. ^ Neil Gaiman (2003-01-01). "Journal". Archived from the original on 2003-01-18.
  7. ^ Tom Burns. "Neil Gaiman Takes Hollywood". UGO. Archived from the original on 2011-05-13.
  8. ^ Robert Wiersema (2002-07-20). "Coraline cool". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  9. ^ Nick Nadel (2013-06-18). "The Neil Gaiman Movies That Never Happened (But Almost Did)". Archived from the original on 2013-06-26.
  10. ^ Alex Stedman (2014-07-14). "Robert Zemeckis Inks Two-Year Deal With Paramount Television". Variety.
  11. ^ Philiana Ng (2014-07-14). "Robert Zemeckis Inks Overall Deal at Paramount TV". The Hollywood Reporter.


External links[edit]