Skvorecky manages to combine his well-known talent for writing detective stories with his own personal life story and reflections on his life/ lives in Czechoslovakia and Canada. Whilst the mystery itself is a bit thin, the meat is in the autobiographical detail, and also the thoughtful and painful exploration of aspects of exile and his past. There clearly are ways in which one’s past never lets go. Again, though, I think the most powerful impression for me has been that of a man growing older, a man conscious of the horrific aspects of the twentieth century which he has lived through and been part of, realising that those experiences will die with him and his generation. Somehow, this doesn’t seem right.
Archive for March, 2012
Having enjoyed The City and The City very much indeed, I was partly prepared for the challenge. Mieville isn’t the first to have explored the potential difficulty of communicating with an intelligent alien species but this is a conceptual tour-de-force. What I liked most was the way he deftly combined it with a take on the myth of the Fall, his idea being that an ‘innocent’ (?) species was corrupted by contact with humans, but that this may be a good thing… Made me think about the nature of humanity, and what we have gained from being fallen, in the same way that Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy did.
I’m re-reading some of the novels and stories of Josef Skvorecky, one of my favourite Central European writers, who died recently, and also tracking down some texts that I haven’t read. He was a very thoughtful and humane writer who allowed people their faults. In this novel, his last, I think, he revisits the characters and places that he fictionalised in much of his oeuvre, tracing life in Czechoslovakia through Nazi occupation, Communism and finally ‘freedom’. It’s cleverly done through two school reunions separated by thirty years and the very different political and social situations in his homeland, from which he exiled himself in 1968. Very moving, and very sad, in that he recognises mortality and the inevitability that the strange and pained lives of himself and his friends will eventually vanish into the past and be as nothing.
Already, the events, places and strangeness of those times are fading from view; read these stories and remember that people did such things to each other in the twentieth century….