Scandinavia hasn’t had a Nobel winner since 1974. This may be the book that earns Enquist the prize.


The historical novel has been reborn in recent years, and it reaches impressive new heights in this brilliant 1999 fiction from Swedish author Enquist (Captain Nemo’s Library, 1991, etc.).

Enquist’s subject is the royal court of Denmark during the 1760s, when the “madness” of inept young monarch Christian VII yielded unprecedented political power to his personal physician, the handsome and charismatic German intellectual Johann Friedrich Struensee. In an energetic expository style that features gradually intensifying rhetorical questions and repetitions, Enquist creates a patiently detailed portrayal of the teenaged king’s irreversible timidity, credulity, and paranoia. The focus then shifts to Christian’s reluctant bride, adolescent English Princess Caroline Mathilde (whose slow growth to adulthood nevertheless outpaces her husband’s); thence to Struense’s rise to ministerial status, institution of various liberal reforms (such as reducing the size of Denmark’s army), and adulterous possession of the now-wanton Queen (whose child he fathers). The manner in which Struense’s (ardent and genuine) “dream of the good society based on justice and reason” (based on the principles of the Enlightenment philosophers) is destroyed by his own weaknesses is delineated with masterly narrative skill, as are the marvelous extended climactic scenes where the Queen and her lover are exposed and detained, and the terrified Struensee is imprisoned, persuaded to reject his beliefs, and prepared for torture and execution. The absolute authority of the novel’s dramatized history is matched by Enquist’s potent characterizations of the gibbering, softhearted Christian; his impulsive consort and the conflicted Struensee; the aged Dowager Queen who plots to replace (her stepson) Christian with her retarded natural son; and, notably, the Machiavellian minister Guldberg, a dwarfish puritan who makes it his mission to protect a conservative society from the revolutionary attitudes of the European Enlightenment (“As in the Icelandic sagas, he had to defend the king’s honor”).

Scandinavia hasn’t had a Nobel winner since 1974. This may be the book that earns Enquist the prize.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-196-7

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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