by Francine Prose ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 13, 1997
Two startling novellas offering meticulous explorations of the power of self-delusion, and featuring some none-too-innocent Americans abroad in the confusing precincts of contemporary Europe. Prose, the author of nine novels (Hunters and Gatherers, 1995, etc.), has always been fascinated by the tangled origins of human behavior. ""Guided Tours of Hell"" follows the hallucinatory misadventures of Landau, a second-rate American playwright attending a conference on Franz Kafka in Prague. He's quickly overshadowed by the riveting figure of Jiri Krakauer, a writer who, as an adolescent, was sent to a concentration camp where, he claims, he became the lover of Ottala Kafka, Franz's sister. The larger-than-life Jiri leads the conferees on a journey to the camp, and in that grim setting he and Landau become locked in an increasingly ugly competition for attention. Landau casts doubt on Jiri's Holocaust memories, and Jiri is volubly sarcastic about Landau's insecurity, his yearning to exchange his crabbed life for one as oversized (and filled with horror) as Jiri's. Prose offers some highly original observations on the deforming power of envy and the dangerously uncertain nature of memory, as well as a compelling meditation on contemporary attitudes toward the Holocaust. ""Three Pigs in Five Days"" follows the frantic efforts of Nina, a young journalist sent to Paris in midwinter by her editor at a travel journal (an older man who is also her lover), to come to terms with her obsessive love for him. Some of the scenes, including Nina's tour of the erotically charged Rodin museum, and a journey through the city's catacombs, are perfectly rendered. But Nina's passivity, her unwillingness to jettison her manipulative lover (who shows up at her hotel), becomes more irritating than compelling, while the end seems rushed and unpersuasive. ""Three Pigs"" is nonetheless vivid and disturbing, and ""Guided Tours of Hell""--exact, unsparing--is a superb, powerful work.
Pub Date: Jan. 13, 1997
Page Count: 256
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996
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