Les liaisons dangereuses updated by Kafka. A remarkably ugly, even repellent little tale—but in a good way.

PORNOGRAFIA

A fresh English version of the great Polish writer’s 1960 novel about middle-aged dreams and youthful obliviousness, one of his best-known works.

Poland, 1943. Neither nature nor religion offers surcease from the Third Reich’s grinding occupation. Intellectuals huddling together for warmth run through topics of conversation—“God, art, nation, proletariat”—as if counting down the last grains of sand in an hourglass. The narrator, Witold Gombrowicz, resolves to leave Warsaw to visit Hipolit, a landowner who’s invited him and Fryderyk, another poseur who’s attached himself to Witold, to his home in the countryside. No sooner have they arrived than the unlikely pair are smitten by Hipolit’s teenaged daughter Henia and her childhood friend Karol. Or rather, they’re smitten by the idea that these two young people belong together, even though Henia, who likes Karol perfectly well but has never thought of him as a potential lover, is about to announce her engagement to Vaclav Paszkowski, a rising attorney from nearby Ruda. In cryptic conversations and memorably febrile internal monologues, the two men share their fantasies about the young people and scheme to make them a couple. But nothing comes of this folie à quatre until Vaclav’s mother is suddenly stabbed to death, and a resistance fighter who’s come to the end of his courage announces his intention of abandoning the cause and going back home. Goaded by a series of unsigned notes that play on their already considerable paranoia, Witold and Fryderyk hatch a monstrous new plan to bring Henia and Karol together. Aiming for greater fidelity to Gombrowicz’s original than the 1966 translation done from a French version, Borchardt, who won a prize for her English rendering of Ferdydurk (2000), spins out a web of words that vibrate with unholy energy.

Les liaisons dangereuses updated by Kafka. A remarkably ugly, even repellent little tale—but in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1925-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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