A set of loosely concatenated stories that don’t quite add up to a novel but are nonetheless rich in character and in the exploration of contemporary urban life in Poland.
In the title story a man reminisces about a time 40 years before, when at the age of 12 he first had the impulse to take his life. He’s heard from Pastor Kalinowski (one of the recurring characters) about the “other world” and has some curiosity about the passage from This World to That. The possibility of his own self-destruction curiously liberates the narrator, so he gives himself permission to violate some taboos—like watch an adult film and read a forbidden book he’s found at the bottom of a cupboard. Pilch manages to inject a great deal of humor into the story—as well as tragedy, for it’s also about the narrator’s relationship to his drunken and dissolute father. “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” announces its subject grandly, though the narrator is forced to admit she might only be in the top ten—or the top 100. He’s nevertheless pleased to have found her, though his sexual fantasies about her turn out to be at one and the same time both indulged in and quashed. In “The Double of Tolstoy’s Son-in-Law,” the narrator develops an obsession about an old photograph of Tolstoy playing chess, while in “A Chapter about a Figure Sitting Motionless” the obsession is with Anka Chow Chow, a virginal soccer fan who has a weakness, or perhaps a fetish, for girls with backpacks.
It’s hard to do justice to the outré and eccentric but gorgeous quality of Pilch’s prose. Here he manages to pull off some neat literary tricks, frequently and self-consciously undermining the seriousness of his subjects with pricks of irony.