ATROCITY AND AMNESIA: The Political Novel Since 1945 by Robert Boyer

ATROCITY AND AMNESIA: The Political Novel Since 1945

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A mixed blessing, intensely worth reading but blighted by two opening chapters in which the reader must chop through thickets of overly dense writing (""A deconstructionist insistence on the diversity of codes inscribed within a single text and on the structural discontinuities even of works that labor to conceal the competition among the several narrative paradigms they contain will usefully remind us to beware of seductive unitary schemes.""), before arriving at illustrated ideas that engage the heart with an enthusiasm to read on. That enthusiasm does strike, as soon as Boyer begins digging into the political nature (or is this work simply a novel of sensibility?) of Lessing's invitingly brilliant The Temptation of Joe Orkney, Bellow's bleak The Dean's December, and then plunges into the politics of Naipaul's novels, especially of A Bend in the River. First, Boyer must satisfy himself and us that there is such a thing as the political novel. But after varied attempts to define it, he decides that the most likely candidates--novels whose ethics point toward what ought to be enduring features of a society--swallow up the definer and his definitions. As well as Lessing and Naipaul, his candidates are chosen from Miguel Ang‚l Austurias, Alejo Carpentier, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Graham Greene, Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Semprun, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and George Steiner. Each writer's works are seen as a whole, then one or more are singled out for analysis (Gordimer's Burger's Daughter, Grass's The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse and Dog Years, Greene's The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American, The Comedians and The Honorary Consul, Kundera's The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, and Steiner's Hitler novel The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., among others). These are novels, he finds, that quietly and imaginatively help us grasp the great issues of the day but hardly ever sound a call to arms. Among Boyer's richer moments, the chapter on Gordimer is quite moving, and that on Greene vigorous fun--something that can't be said about Grass's Danzig trilogy nor Marquez's swirling visions of decay. But it is the chapter on Solzhenitsyn that gives towering enjoyment to Boyer's study as he follows the author's strategies in The First Circle and use of polyphonic themes to create a densely factualized universal horror of Russia under Stalin, with one madman's evil magnetizing every particle of existence. Solzhenitsyn's is a subject so vast that he resists allowing his novel to have a single theme or mere summary of intent or the categorization of being a political novel. The greatest political novel is antipolitical.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press