A postmodernist mélange of ideas, impressions, jot-downs and academic trivia assumes the guise of a novel in an Estonian intellectual’s English-language debut.
Written in 1990 and presented here in its first translation, the text opens with writerly musings on opening a novel. Unt (1944–2005) wastes no time before separating himself from the character of the Author; let’s call him Unt 2. Unt 2 plans a massive book on electricity in its every form: a physical phenomenon, a social agent, a semiotic cluster. The narrator of Unt 2’s novel—more or less Unt 3—prepares to blow up a local power station. As this tantalizing conceit would force Unt 1 to usher in an actual plot, the author chooses to spend the rest of the novel collapsing this structure and telescoping it back. Characters endure in-person interrogation from their creator; journal snippets float up, equally attributable to any of the unreliable narrators; a female subject turns the novel epistolary at will. Games aside, the author does manage to unload a bulging file of electricity trivia: The reader will indeed learn fun facts about magnetic fields, radio waves and electric grids, not to mention continental drift, conspiracy theories, Native-American cosmology and, by proxy, the enviable breadth of an Estonian liberal-arts education. Unt writes in sharp shards (“A dog has been run over and had now almost merged with the asphalt”), but they’re floating in aspic (“Everything is necessary for something, and something is happening somewhere all the time”). Unmitigated praise goes to translator Dickens for a game recreation of the novel’s cacophony of styles.
Clever but utterly lacking in structure, suggesting that seen-it-all intellectual ennui managed to beat capitalism to the westernmost nook of the Soviet Union.