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A brilliant novella that incisively portrays a lonely boy's passage through obsessive religiosity toward madness, from the great Belgian author of The Sorrow of Belgium (1990) and other highly acclaimed works as yet mostly untranslated. Written in Flemish and originally published in 1989, this latest from Claus succinctly contrasts the fantasy life of preadolescent Martin Ghyselen with the passions that divert and all but destroy his family and neighbors in a tightly knit and isolated village rife with ethnic, religious, and sexual tensions. Martin's divorced mother Sybille surrenders to the fevered attentions of Headmaster Goossens, whose ""lyric drama"" being prepared for an upcoming ""Culture Weekend"" reveals his fascination with her namesake ""the goddess Cybele."" The Ghyselens' hired man Richard, a former veterinarian, now impoverished and homeless, diverges dangerously from his former habit of ""helping women"" (who were pregnant and unmarried). And young Martin, imagining himself variously as the heroic Clint Eastwood, the ""terror of the seas,"" and especially as the misunderstood and martyred Jesus, distorts and rejects reality in ways that are crucially and mockingly mirrored in the affairs of his adult counterparts. Written in an elliptical prose whose harshness and sardonic wit are expertly caught by Levitt's graceful translation, this hypnotic short novel reveals the erratic pulse of a culture in the manner of G°nter Grass's also short book Cat and Mouse. Patterns of conflicting and provocative imagery (fertility-barrenness, Christ as a fish) further enrich a disturbing and yet dazzling picture of small-town conflict and crisis. The good news is that much more of Claus's fiction remains to be translated into English. The sooner the better.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1997
Page count: 106pp
Publisher: Peter Owen/Dufour