Olga Tokarczuk: Flights

July 21, 2021

     I’ve lately grown rather despondent about fiction written in English; either I’m not encountering interesting and innovative approaches, or there aren’t any. Certainly I find much greater satisfaction reading novels from other lands, normally in translation. For my money, Olga Tokarczuk really deserved the Nobel Prize: she pushes the boundaries. I returned to Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead recently, and now I’ve just re-read Flights. That’s not a particularly good translation of the title: the Polish title translates as ‘Extremes’ in the sense of from one place to another, and the French version is called ‘The Pilgrims’, which doesn’t really cut it either…

It’s about travel, movement, in place and time, physical and metaphysical. Much of it is fiction, some is digression, philosophical musing, if you like, some is historical documentary, almost. There’s no clear line from A-Z through the book; the sections are feel associative, if anything. And it’s fascinating! There is a goodly selection of weird maps illustrating or intervening in the text; I was astonished to discover that they came from the Agile Rabbit collection, which I was given for Christmas many years ago.

It takes a bit of work, because you don’t really have a framework or pattern to slot the book into from the start. It’s a challenge; it’s not compulsive, page-turning reading, yet you’re intrigued enough to carry on, rewarded enough mentally, curious enough to find out where Olga’s going with this one. Do the digressions intervene in the story-telling, or is it the other way around? The psychology of the fictional characters is certainly compelling enough. Where does the stuff about the plastination of bodies, or about dissection in the eighteenth century, actually fit in?

So, Olga Tokarczuk has done something new with the ‘novel’ here, with fiction, with writing itself, I think. This is welcome in the days when, as I said earlier, the form feels rather tired and hackneyed, and there seems to be a dearth of writers prepared to experiment and take risks with doing new things. Here is originality of form and approach, here is mental stimulus and thought-provoking, here is good writing, well-translated, demanding the reader’s input, engagement and attention.

Flights is enigmatic, indefinable, marvellous… definitely worth your eyeball time!


Men don’t read books by women (?)

July 16, 2021

I’ve written about and around the issue of books by men and women, and which I choose to read, before; an article in The Guardian last weekend prompted me to do some more thinking. The premise of the article was that men did not read books by women writers… roughly speaking.

I turned to my shelves and noticed just how large a proportion of the books, of all genres, were by male writers. I cannot deny this, so why is this the case? As someone who spent several years researching into feminism and science fiction as a postgraduate student, it was a sobering realisation. And what women writers have I allowed into my library, and why?

When I consider the classics of fiction, then women writers figure very strongly on the list: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte are right there are the very top and if I were pushed to choose between them and Conrad, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, for example, I’d be hard pressed. And I note that that there are no English males in my list, for the simple reason (pace some of my readers) Dickens and Hardy and the like just aren’t up there for me.

With more recent and contemporary fiction, males do dominate, without a doubt. But then I thought, actually it’s not the gender of a writer that attracts me, it’s the subject-matter, the themes and ideas. So Margaret Atwood is there for her speculative fiction and her feminism, Pat Barker for her brilliant imaginings and psychological insights about the Great War, Ursula Le Guin for her speculative fiction and feminism just like Atwood. And similar reasons for reading Angela Carter, Marge Piercy. Olga Tokarczuk and Agota Kristov are there because I explore Eastern European fiction. And although there are clearly traits that draw me to writers, both male and female, I do also appreciate the qualities of their writing, and what they bring to the human conditions they illuminate.

I looked at the non-fiction section of my library, and found Mary Beard, whose take on the classical period I like very much and have found a most interesting counterbalance to the picture of the ancient world I imbibed as a school student many years ago. And there was Karen Armstrong, whose histories of religion and theology I have found very thought-provoking over the years. I read those authors not because of their gender but because of the subject-matter: theology, religion and history have always interested me deeply.

Somehow I feel as though I’m offering excuses here, as much as explanations or reasons: are there really fewer women writing in the subjects I’ve come to find interesting over the years? I don’t know.

Then I thought about travel-writing, my major more recent area of exploration, and realised how much I have appreciated the women travellers of the last century of so. There’s Ella Maillart, the intrepid Victorian Isabella Bird, Mildred Cable and Francesca French, Edith Durham, Freya Stark, Gertrude Bell, Jan Morris… certainly men still dominate the shelves, but the women writers are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. Here, I suppose, it’s because there’s not the macho posing and posturing a good many of the male travellers have gone in for at times. Instead there is the close observation, detailed description, sharing of the lives of those among whom they travelled, a sense of intimacy and belonging and appreciation of differences. Not that men travelling aren’t capable of those things, but that women do them better and more consistently and have left me with a fuller appreciation of their travelling…

I’m as confused as before. I don’t think any of my choices are gender-driven, though, and I’d be interested to hear what any of my readers think on this question.


Amin Maalouf: Leo the African

July 13, 2021

     I’d no idea it was so long since I last read this novel, which never ceases to amaze me, because it is a (fictionalised) account of a real life, and I really don’t believe you could make it up.

Jews, Muslims and Christians live reasonably peaceably alongside one another in pre-Reconquista Granada; there is a recap of events leading to the fall of Granada to the Spanish in 1492, and the mayhem which follows for those who are not of the Catholic faith. There is the full vileness of the Inquisition, persecution and the inability of Christians to accept that anyone might be different. Our hero, and narrator, is a Muslim. And though it’s technically a novel, it’s also an autobiography: we cannot have the same expectations of plot as we might have of a completely fictional text; the narrative is linear, but we do grow inevitably attached to people and places.

The narrator and his family leave Granada and settle in Fez; we learn of schooling and lifelong friendships. Eventually he becomes a rich and successful businessman, close to those in power, travels widely and is used on various diplomatic missions by the authorities. His weirdest adventure is his kidnapping by Christians and presentation as a gift to the Pope! Here, his knowledge and skills are put to the service of the incredibly corrupt Church at the time of the Reformation; he is baptised against his will, but escapes being ordained priest before one of his missions. In the end, after years of wanderings, he is able to return to his home and family and live out the remainder of his life in peace as a devout Muslim. I had mis-remembered the plot from my earlier readings, and forgotten how small a section of the novel is his life in Rome at the service of the Pope.

I realised that the narrator’s famous book The Description of Africa is based on his travels all over the north of that continent; when I last read the novel, I had yet to track down that book. Leo travels in the footsteps of his earlier Muslim forbear Ibn Battutah, whose journeys a couple of centuries earlier rivalled those of Marco Polo.

I found the first person narrative effective and convincing. In the back of my mind was always the thought, this stuff is true; the narrative style is that of a devout Muslim, whose faith is at the forefront of his life and deeds (most of the time), and the adventures are almost non-stop. Towards the end of the book, the narrator is at the centre of world-changing events, with the Reformation, the attempts of an incredibly corrupt papacy to consolidate its power and build alliances to secure its future, even if this means joining forces with the Ottomans, and also the various rivalries weakening the Muslim world in those tumultuous years.

Over the years I have come to realise how good a writer Amin Maalouf is. Not only has he written some very good novels, but also a number of very interesting historical and social texts in which he presents thoughtful and powerful analysis of the current state of the world. He has received recognition by being elected to the Académie Française, but that’s all, as far as I’m aware. At the moment, I’m reflecting on what is different about Arabic fiction, thinking of Maalouf, and also Naguib Mahfouz in particular. Maybe it’s my position as an ‘outsider’ to their world, but I’m conscious of a different feel to their novels, one which cannot just be explained by the Muslim background that is omnipresent in a way that Christianity isn’t in Western fiction, for instance. Does anyone out there have any pointers?


Hans Kung: The Catholic Church

July 12, 2021

     Here is another attempt, rather in the manner of some of the writings of Geza Vermes, to lay out the reality of what happened as Christianity developed right from its very beginnings; the difference is that the book is written by a committed – and controversial – Catholic priest and theologian rather than a Jewish sceptic. Küng is happy to stand accepted ideas on their head and ask awkward questions, though at times I also felt he moved on leaving some of them unanswered. I suppose you would have to call him a critical friend of the church.

Along with other recent church historians, Küng is clear that without Paul there would be no Catholic (or Christian) church. He outlines the early centuries with broad brush-strokes; a key moment is the religion becoming the official one of the Roman Empire, and the next key figure after Paul is Augustine of Hippo, to whom we owe the notion of original sin, and the linked vilification of sex and sexuality.

I had not clearly understood the notion of the gradual creation of the Holy Roman Empire in the west as a rival to the Byzantine Empire in the east, nor realised the widespread use of deliberately forged documents to embed the development of the hierarchy of the Western church, with its emphasis on the authoritarian power of the pope, which went against the practices of the early Church.

Kung also clarified for me the differences at the heart of the split which finally came to a head and hardened permanently in the eleventh century: the pope is an absolutist monarch, the Eastern churches retain autonomy and a collegiate relationship among themselves, which again is closer to the time of the early church. So from relatively early on, the powers and abuse of them by the papacy has been at the heart of what divided first the whole church, and more recently the Western church. Küng is scathing about the appalling papal vice and corruption which led to the Reformation, and recognises the general coherence and validity of Luther’s arguments and criticisms.

The failure of the Roman Catholic Church properly to reform itself, and the consequent religious wars, Küng sees as a major factor contributing to the development of secularism, with an age of reason replacing an era of faith, and being faced by a papacy demonstrating lengthy and long-lasting resistance to anything even vaguely modern or democratic, permanently turned in on itself and attempting to perpetuate the attitudes and behaviours of the late Middle Ages.

Küng offers a very strongly worded criticism of the Church, headed by Pius XII, for its failure to condemn the Nazi extermination of the Jews, and notes that despite its original hopes, the reformers of the Second Vatican Council ultimately have failed to shake or curb the immense power of the papacy and Roman Curia.

As a brief, clear and comprehensive introduction to the Catholic Church, this is excellent.


Hermann Hesse: Narziss and Goldmund

July 1, 2021

     Well, there’s still The Glass Bead Game (if I can face it) which many reckon is the magnum opus, but I think for me Narziss and Goldmund has always been Hermann Hesse’s very best novel. I’ve just re-read it for the fourth time, I think, and with a considerable reluctance, because of the powerful responses it has always awakened in me. Here, Hesse addresses fully and openly the duality of human nature, those urges which can draw us subconsciously or consciously in widely different directions, and which lead the thoughtful on to reflection about the nature of their own personality and psyche…

Hesse does well, I think, to set this novel back in mediaeval times rather than in his own era; this distance suggests a permanence to those traits he is exploring, ie they do not just belong to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century when psychology was in its infancy, yet making great strides in understanding what makes us tick, and how we work. True, we are back in a more religious era, but then, I suppose we are talking about the soul, for want of a better word. And there is clearly some biographical significance to the cloister of Mariabronn, which has featured in several earlier novels.

At one level it’s a straightforward story of two men, who become lifelong friends, the one initially a novice teacher at the monastery, the other a student. Very different in character – opposites or complementary depending on how you choose to view them – the bond is very deep, survives separations and challenges; the teacher, a monk, remains forever in the cloister, the student realises that this is not to be his place, and he must engage with the world. The teacher is a man of ideas, thought, the intellect, the pupil is in tune with the beauty and variety and diversity of the world. From this summary it may appear superficially rather trite, a roman à thèse perhaps, yet there is a quality to the friendship, and the two men’s perceptions of the world as presented by Hesse which I have always found very powerful and gripping, and the canvas of lived life and vanishing time, with eternity at the end, never fails to move me.

Narziss (the teacher, whose name intrigues me, and whose realisations and admissions at the very end of the story are powerful and sobering) recognises Goldmund as the other part of himself, in Jungian terms. The teacher looks inward, an intellectual, a thinker; he never leaves the monastery to which he commits his life, eventually becoming its abbot. Goldmund’s memories of his mother are missing: who is she, and why has he blotted her out? Narziss starts his friend on the road to self-discovery; Goldmund leaves the school and friend behind – it’s almost as if he has moved past him – and becomes a vagabond, revelling in the external pleasures of life, and his attractiveness to women. Despite their great closeness, the parting of the friends’ ways is both sad and inevitable, as they have exhausted the possibilities of this stage of their lives.

The sensualist Goldmund follows his whims, travelling freely: he is a true wanderer, like the heroes of some of Hesse’s earlier novels. Eventually, following another call, having seen a carved statue which moves him greatly, he apprentices himself to a woodcarver and produces a couple of masterworks before the call of freedom sets him back on the road. But there is a great artist in him, and throughout the book a heightened attuned-ness to the world around him and its inherent beauty – even in the world of the plague and death, through which he passes. And he ages, learns, becomes wiser, in a different way and a different world from that of his cloistered friend. The fixed and the wanderer become clearly two sides of a personality.

I found an irony in that it was often the call of solitude that drew Goldmund away from periods of fixedness, as a lover, a road-companion, a woodcarver’s apprentice: just like his friend. Throughout, there is a strong distaste for the ordinary, the bourgeois, the comfortable, just as there was in the Harry Haller character in Steppenwolf.

Goldmund is haunted by the apparent futility of life and existence: where is the meaning? What survives of us? He yearns to leave something of permanence behind – which he will, his carvings – and yet, in working to create, he must leave what he sees as living behind.

There are two reunions of the friends, when Goldmund is changed, older and wiser, and when he is dying. I find it very hard reading these encounters. The two men, mentally and spiritually inseparable despite years apart and the great difference between their lives, nevertheless fully understand each other. I found myself wondering why so much of the story was Goldmund’s: he is he one who must travel and explore and change. And yet, it is his friend who learns something incredibly powerful as Goldmund dies: he understands what it means to love…

As I re-read Hesse at this later stage in life, I’m in awe of his wisdom at the same time as I perceive the hidden simplicity of his message (if that makes sense). Hesse’s style here is so much slower, more lyrical, more reflective. I can see him reaching the height of his creativity, approaching to the end of a journey of a kind, which began with his earliest writings.


Overrated

June 30, 2021

There are quite a few things in the world of literature that make me cross. For the life of me – and I’ve read it several times (because I had to!) – I cannot see what some people find to rave about in The Great Gatsby. It’s always struck me as being about superficial, trivial, privileged people who I couldn’t care less about and the narrator puts me off right from the start.

Equally, I fail to see why some think so highly of Lolita. I’ve had it recommended to me a number of times, by people whose opinions and tastes I rate highly. I’ve tried to read it at least three times, have never got beyond fifty pages or so. I’ve found it dull, and I’ve also found it toe-curlingly creepy, in a perverted sort of way. I shan’t be bothering again.

I shall also confess that I find Wuthering Heights grossly overrated. I read it, unravelled the complex plot at the time, and could now tell you almost nothing about the book or its characters, so deep an impression it didn’t make on me. Emily Bronte I can do without; her sister Charlotte, on the other hand, I rate very highly: the ending of Villette is an absolute master-stroke.

At least I’ve made the attempt with those books. There are writers I haven’t really bothered with – Dickens, and Hardy for instance: I had to read Hard Times in my first year at university, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles too. The former I quite enjoyed, the latter I found rather silly because of the leaden hand of fate that rested on the heroine’s shoulders throughout. Certainly, I’ve never felt called to use up any more eyeball time on those writers.

I have quite a large blind spot about British and American fiction of the last few decades: I haven’t read very much of it at all, because very little of it has recommended itself to me, and quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve missed much. My general feeling has been that writers in other countries and continents have found much more interesting stories to write. No recent English language writer has, for me, reached the heights of Gunter Grass, Umberto Eco or Amin Maalouf, for example.

I’ve enjoyed having a bit of a gripe here, and I can imagine some of my readers thinking, “Well, I never saw anything in Philip Pullman, or, what has Josef Skvorecky got to say to me?” So, what are the books or writers you consider overrated?


The search for meaning

June 30, 2021

I’ve clearly reached a stage in my life where I’m looking back and reviewing things, wondering where I’ve got to, and I’ve found myself returning to a number of novels I first read in my student years, with the perspective and hindsight of a lifetime.

I can still remember the powerful effect of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge on me, while I was still at school: the idea of travelling the world searching for what life was all about, and the sense of freedom called to me, and I suppose I responded by becoming a hippy and doing a modest amount of travelling and exploring alternative lifestyles. I came across Jack Kerouac’s famous On The Road while at university, and that reinforced the notion of complete freedom to go wherever the whim took me; not so easy to accomplish in the UK in the 1970s, though. I quickly came to find that book somewhat superficial and haven’t felt the need to go back to it; when I read his Desolation Angels, with its accounts of solitude in the forests, I was more responsive. There has always been a part of me that has craved solitude, and I have always loved forests.

Round about the same time, I encountered Hermann Hesse, and if you look back over the past few months’ posts, you will see I’ve been revisiting his novels; I’ve just re-read my favourite of all time, Narziss and Goldmund, and there will be a post about it in a few days. It’s all about the duality of human nature, being torn between freedom and adventure, and the urge to seek safety and security, issues I’ve felt pulled in both directions by throughout my adult life: there was the immense freedom of my student and hippy days, the era of career, family and responsibilities, and now, in my later years a renewed sense of freedom and openness to do what I like, which is, sadly, a little curtailed by physical ageing. Hesse explores it all, which is why he spoke to my condition all those years ago, and still does. The rather more deliberate spiritual journey he describes in Siddhartha is just as powerful and moving, though in a different way…

More recently – that is, in my adult years – I came to read Ernst Wiechert’s The Simple Life, which is also about the values of solitude: set after the Great War, a German sea-captain, disgusted by what he has seen and experienced, leaves the world behind for the deep forests of East Prussia, to live with a single companion in a simple hut. It’s a somewhat romanticised vision of solitude, and undercut by the looming Nazi period and the eventual disappearance of the place after the war, but it’s appealing in its portrayal of the attractions of simplicity, away from the noise, complication and corruption of the outside world. I suppose part of my reading of books like that is that I’ve always imagined myself transposed into the setting, and wondered how I would (a) manage (b) enjoy that existence. That goes right back to my very first reading of Robinson Crusoe.

The final writer I’ll mention is not a novelist, but a traveller – and I use that word advisedly – Ella Maillart. She began her travels after the Great War, having experienced a sense of alienation from Europe and what it had just inflicted on itself; the Second World War she spend studying and practising with a guru in India, having realised that the external journeying had become an internal one. I have found her accounts of travel and her reflections on what she saw, experienced and learned through seeing the world, very interesting and enlightening; her move to introspection in her later life is another thing I have come to recognise in myself.

Where this all gets me, I suppose, is an awareness of my internal restlessness, and a strong sense of having been drawn in two different directions as I’ve lived and experienced my life. It has been both helpful and enlightening to learn, through my reading, that I’m not alone in this, and to accept the likelihood that the journey goes on as long as I do… The books I’ve mentioned I have found compelling and powerfully moving whenever I have returned to them, so much so that I often hesitate before picking them up again, knowing that I’m heading for an emotional and mental shake-up.


A Brief Epiphany

June 29, 2021

I took a book down from the shelf: The Engineer of Human Souls, by Josef Skvorecky. It’s my choice for next month’s book group discussion and I realised I’d need to re-read it myself, as well as inflicting it on my colleagues. That will be the sixth reading, according to my records. I don’t mind: obviously it’s one of my favourites, for many reasons, and yet it wasn’t on my ‘time to revisit’ list. Slight disconnect in my thinking, choosing it, perhaps.

But at the same time came a moment of sudden clarity, of revelation. How fortunate I am, have been, in that I have spent pretty much my entire life engaged in reading books, something I fell in love with as soon as I learned how to do it.

I don’t mean I haven’t done anything else: I’m happily married, I’ve fathered and helped raise a family, travelled Europe quite a lot, gardened, listened to music and so on. But my whole life is inseparable from reading, and it was wonderful to see it like that, all of a sudden.

I read my way through the school library, Stamford Public Library, studied literature for O Level, A Level, for a bachelor’s degree and researched for two master’s degrees. I taught English language and literature for my entire working life. I’ve written study guides about literary texts, and I’ve maintained this blog – about reading and literature – for over ten years. And now, happily retired, I have all the time I want to read, when I want, what I want. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy any and all the books I want and need.

What more could a person ask for?


Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf

June 21, 2021

     Back to my re-visiting of the novels of Hermann Hesse, and this one which was all the rage in my student/hippy days such a long time ago…

Autobiographical again? The hero is called Harry Haller, after all. A man lost and oppressed by bourgeois convention, a Mr Normal and his shadow, in Jungian terms, an endless wanderer and seeker who feels that suicide is the only way out of his perceived dilemma of being unable to square the circle, and reconcile being endlessly pulled in two different directions. Haller echoes and parallels some of the heroes of Hesse’s earlier novels, and their dilemmas, but here they are much more sharply focused, more central. It starts off as a treatise on the Steppenwolf, Haller’s name for his darker self, and feels like a manifesto, or an apologia for his condition. This part felt rambling, dated, tedious and self-indulgent this time around.

But Haller is turned away from his sourness, bitterness, mockery and self-loathing by a woman – Hermine – whom he meets in a bar. A hermaphrodite (Herman!), she humanises the misanthrope through a series of drug-like experiences and encounters, opening him up to a new world of self-exploration and self-knowledge, as well as leading him to accept that there are other people, like himself, who do not fit into the conventional world, and who therefore make a new and different one for themselves in which they can flourish.

Partly this is a novel that reflects some of the strangeness of the interwar years – it was published in 1927 – and partly it reflects Hesse’s lifelong interest in Jungian psychology (the two were contemporaries) which explores the duality of our human psyches, and, for me, is recounted most clearly and fully in the beautiful and haunting Narziss and Goldmund, which I hope to re-read next. And although there are all those connections with his earlier novels, here is a much greater depth, maturity and intensity to the writing. I now have a much clearer sense of the unity of Hesse’s oeuvre, and, I suppose, his sense that one’s entire life is a journey, a search for meaning, a notion that speaks to my own condition. There is a sense of the vastness of humans’ potential once one dares to look beyond the limits one has imposed/ had imposed on oneself.

I found myself reflecting on myself and how I’ve changed as I’ve aged; as students we raved about how brilliant this book was, the idea of being great, notable, different… not sliding into being part of the mainstream of life. And yet, this is what happened to most of us; although I never forgot or rejected those hippy days, I followed – happily – the conventional path of career, family, mortgage and have only in retirement felt able to pick up some of those earlier, left-aside threads of my life. Curious, and now more understandable to me at least, that I laid these books aside when I did, and have now returned to them, with a new and different sense of appreciation…


Nicole Avril: Les Gens de Misar

June 14, 2021

     After 45 years I’ve returned to one of the strangest novels I know; it was recommended to me all those years ago by one of my students while I was an English language assistant in France. There are echoes of so many other writers and classic novels of the twentieth century that I still can’t decide whether it has an originality of its own or is merely derivative.

A Frenchman, a university lecturer, accepts a posting to a country that has deliberately cut itself off completely from the world for the past thirty years. It seems that partly he is fleeing an unsuccessful love affair, and wants to be away from all that’s familiar. He has studied the language and history of the desert nation and its capital city, Misar, though.

Misar is a rigidly organised and conformist society, applying its laws, which everyone knows, very strictly. He accepts and goes along with this. Great poverty as well as great privilege is evident in a stratified class system; he is part of the privileged elite. He observes and reports, giving the clear impression of being out of place; what he sees seems to jar but he can do nothing, and even to ask questions is not acceptable. The weirdness of the city was reminiscent of China Mieville’s excellent thriller The City and The City. I felt distinct echoes of Kafka here. At this stage he is a passive entity: when the sister of his university colleague appears in his bed offering her sexual services he accepts and performs; this becomes a regular occurrence and a real relationship – of a kind – develops between them. But all is never what is seems.

Gradually he learns more of the way the state functions; law is enforced by ritual public stranglings, and it transpires that the current appointed executioner is the older sister of his lover. This uneasy and unnerving implication with the forces of death reminded me of Jill Paton Walsh’s weird Knowledge of Angels, as well as Marguerite Yourcenar’s L’Oeuvre au Noir. And there is a strangle kind of licence permitted in the mysterious public gardens, which again are more than they seem. Here is a world where all is fine as long as you abide by the rules, which everyone knows. Shades of Huxley’s Brave New World, rather than Orwell here, I thought. And yet, our hero seems to be committing thoughtcrime, in wanting information about matters he ought not to be concerning himself with: the dangers of curiosity in a totalitarian state.

Misar regards itself as a haven from the rest of the world which is chaos, and is biding its time, unaware that the rest of the planet has just forgotten about it. Danger rears its head when having watched an execution to which he was invited, it’s made clear he’s now regarded as ‘initiated’ – one of them. And there seem to be people in Misar who are aware of the stasis, entropy even, into which the place has fallen, and hope that the outside may be able to do something to break the cycle when he returns home.

His fascination with the executioner leads him to uncover the secret from which he has been warned away, and the inexorable system into which he has been accepted means that he must die…

It’s an unnerving read, a compulsive read and one which makes a number of allegorical interpretations available at different stages. At the moment, I really can’t decide how original or how good it is. And in another 45 years, it will not matter. I have not discovered an English translation of the novel.


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