In A Remote Polish Village, Janina Devotes The Dark Winter Days To Studying Astrology, Translating The Poetry Of William Blake, And Taking Care Of The Summer Homes Of Wealthy Warsaw Residents Her Reputation As A Crank And A Recluse Is Amplified By Her Not So Secret Preference For The Company Of Animals Over Humans Then A Neighbor, Big Foot, Turns Up Dead Soon Other Bodies Are Discovered, In Increasingly Strange Circumstances As Suspicions Mount, Janina Inserts Herself Into The Investigation, Certain That She Knows Whodunit If Only Anyone Would Pay Her MindA Deeply Satisfying Thriller Cum Fairy Tale,Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Deadis A Provocative Exploration Of The Murky Borderland Between Sanity And Madness, Justice And Tradition, Autonomy And Fate Whom Do We Deem Sane It Asks Who Is Worthy Of A Voice I ve carried about some William Blake verses in a pocket of my memory for years To say I studied them at school is probably not quite accurate since I don t remember anything I learned about Auguries of Innocence All the same, Blake s verses lent themselves to memorizing better than many others, and so they stuck fast in my idiosyncratic mind I loved them so much that I once inscribed a verse from Blake on a friend s birthday card convinced that To see a World in a Grain of Sand, and a Heaven in a Wild Flower was the most beautiful sentiment ever expressed That friendship didn t last When next I thought of writing lines of poetry on a friend s birthday card, I chose Robert Frost instead That friendship lasted much better Reader, I married him The narrator of this book let s call her Venus since she s an amateur astrologer who has an intense dislike for her own name and she gives nicknames to everyone around her , is even obsessed with William Blake than I ever was But she doesn t use him to test the potential of future partners, or at least not directly Her test for partners is simpler She asks them what religion they are, but doesn t seem to care a lot about their answers I wondered if she wasn t searching for the one in a thousand million who might answer the question by saying his religion is that of the prophet Blake Because for Tokarczuk s narrator, Blake s Auguries of Innocence are the Gospel, and his contrary riddled Proverbs of Hell are the Ten Commandments Drive your plow over the bones of the dead is one of Blake s Proverbs of Hell It s a good title for Tokarczuk s story, but several other of his proverbs might have suited just as well For example Excess of joy weeps A dead body, revenges, not injuries Improvement makes strait roads, but roads without Improvement are roads of Genius The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship Always be ready to speak your mind and a base man will avoid you Tokarczuk s Venus always speaks her mind, and like Blake, she revels in everything that is contrary In fact, she invariably does the opposite of what people advise, and interprets every aspect of her world in her own idiosyncratic fashion and always with the planets in mind since she s an astrologer She is a lot powerful than her middle age and small stature might imply so it wouldn t be an exaggeration to call her a force of nature The I think about it, the I like the name I ve given her Not only is the planet Venus called after a powerful female goddess, but it turns in the opposite direction to most of the other planets which sums up Tokarczuk s narrator pretty neatly Because I enjoy finding parallels between books, I was pleased to find an odd bit of synchronicity the other day when Russell Hoban s Riddley Walker came up in conversation I immediately had the thought that there are a few parallels between Hoban s book and Tokarczuk s Both narrators walk about a lot, and they both give names to every stick and stone they pass by in their wanderings And both like to speak in riddles There s also a preoccupation with hunting in both books, and the patron saint of hunters features in each, although he s called Saint Eustace in Riddley Walker and Saint Hubertus in Tokarczuk s book Incidentally, Flaubert has a story about the patron saint of hunters too but he calls him Saint Julien But whatever the saint s name, his story is or less the same in all versions a nobleman, who is an indiscriminate hunter of every living creature, has a vision one day of a little Christlike figure perched between the antlers of the stag he is hunting From that day on, he changes his ways Hunters use his example to practice ethical modes of hunting, hence his status as Patron Saint of the Hunt Tokarczuk s narrator isn t fooled by talk of ethical hunting however Like Blake she believes that As the air is to a bird, or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.For hunters, she only has contempt The fox condemns the trap, not himself Now shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019This is the second book by Olga Tokarczuk to be published in translation by Fitzcarraldo Editions The previous one Flights deservedly won this year s Man Booker International prize and is my favourite of all the books I have read this year This one is very different but just as interesting in some ways it is closer in spirit to Primeval and Other Times, the first Tokarczuk novel to be translated into English.The translation is by Antonia Lloyd Jones, who is English, so I was a little surprised by the spelling of the striking title Those who know their William Blake well may recognise it as a quotation, and indeed Blake takes a major role in the book The epigraphs which begin each chapter are all quotations from Blake s poems, and one character is translating Blake into Polish At one point four attempts at translating a stanza are quoted, which must have been quite a challenge to translate back into English In addition to the title quotation, which appears in a pivotal chapter near the end of the book, the word plough occurs twice in the book, both spelled the modern English way, once when describing a ploughed field and once for the constellation.The narrator Janina Duszejko is a brilliant creation a woman in her 60s who lives in an isolated hamlet near the Czech border which is almost deserted in winter She acts as a caretaker for various summer residents and prefers animals to humans.At the start of the book she is woken by her neighbour Oddball to investigate the death of another neighbour Big Foot , a poacher who appears to have choked to death This is the first of a number of deaths of those involved in hunting in the area, and the narrator ascribes them to the revenge of the animals, and her attempts to persuade the police to listen are largely ignored She also believes that all of the deaths have been predicted by astrology, her other main interest The narrator has many other eccentricities, for example she hates her own name, particularly being addressed as Janina, and she prefers to name people for herself using nicknames unless she feels their names fit them especially well Another quirk of the text is the quasi Biblical usage of initial capital letters to stress particular improper nouns, for example her Ailments.This description barely hints at how rich, allusive and atmospheric the story is, and the dark denouement is fitting. For every thing that lives is Holy.The action of the novel, the title could be translated as a quote from Blake s Drive Your Plough over the Bones of the Dead, takes place in a remote mountain settlement in the beautiful Kotlina K odzka That quiet, tranquil location suddenly is a place of murders of local hunters, with only animals tracks left on the crime scene Revange of the game This one was promoted as an ecological and moral thriller with strong feministic and anarchic accents But you can read it as well as a satire on provinionalism and insular way of thinking, as a critique of hipocrysy of clergy and local policymakers, accusation of upstart holidaymakers who think that nature is only for their pleasure, opposition to maltreating the old and weak, objection to misogyny and finally call for justice and mercy for all living creatures and respect for the nature world.Look at this scene It s called display of trophies of the hunt Hunters would say it means respect and tribute for animals but I find it only ridiculous and barbaric view spoiler hide spoiler Drive Your Plow has been described as one of Olga Tokarczuk s lighter novels, written between the experimental Flights and The Books of Jacob as she said in this interview but this literary crime story, narrated by an eccentric animal lover in her 60s, is still full of ideas Some things were easy to say about the book It has gorgeous descriptions of nature In this it s similar to the writing of Andrzej Stasiuk, another major contemporary Polish author who, like Olga Tokarczuk, left Warsaw to move to the Tatra mountain border regions Although Tokarczuk was born near the area where she now lives Both writers incorporate the rural landscape and the culture of the border area into their work If you are an English language reader with heritage in the hills of southern of Poland, you are rather spoilt for choice it s not often that there is such an abundance of translated writing from such sparsely populated areas far from major cities Parts of Drive Your Plow contain intensely reflective and philosophical insights Especially near the beginning, there s a paragraph worth highlighting and remembering on every page These seem hint at why Tokarczuk s longer novel Flights won this year s International Booker, and why The Books of Jacob has been so eagerly awaited by English readers of complex fiction Some of the novel, especially after the early chapters, is of a pacy literary crime story, and less overtly philosophical Which makes it a faster, lighter read overall than it may seem from the opening pages however this may disappoint readers hoping for something structurally experimental all the way through I m grateful to Katia s review, which I read before the novel itself it was invaluable in explaining that the narrator of Drive Your Plow is a riff on a 1990s East European trend for light, ironic novels featuring female detectives I couldn t help but see this through the lens of the English cosy mystery subgenre, as descended from Miss Marple but undoubtedly there are differences in the Polish equivalent which an English reader is unaware of The queen of 20th century Polish crime writing, the late Joanna Chmielewska, has not been translated to English as yet Seeing Drive Your Plow as a satire on old lady cosy mysteries made me look forward to reading it it seemed like an easy way into Tokarczuk s work, so than Flights, which had been talked up as formidable, or the two other books of hers which I d already owned for years, and which had become ought to reads at least as much as want to reads And, as it turned out, I loved what Tokarczuk added to the cosy mystery concept twists, politics, and amplification of traits that popular culture associates with older women living alone but which it does not necessarily respect including a mad cat lady love of all animals, not just cats, Pani Duszejko is actually a dog owner and a belief in superstitions and the supernatural The narrator is not as safe and sweet as your typical cosy mystery heroine There is also another feminist twist on crime fiction in general in Drive Your Plow, the murder victims are middle aged and older men not the usual young women or children In literary fiction, making astrology prominent in a narrative can get people s backs up, as it did with Eleanor Catton s 2013 Booker Winner The Luminaries I mean, this isn t romance or commercial women s fiction, is it On a personal level, I find horoscopes pernicious they can be an insidious nuisance when combined with a phase of OCD type issues But when they are used as complex motifs in a literary novel, I think the snobbery they provoke is excessive Some have described this snobbery as sexist, although perhaps it is also sexist to align astrology so strongly with women I doubt that heavy use of, for example, Renaissance alchemy and its symbolism, in a work of fiction would irritate the same people to the same extent Astrology is, similarly, a system of symbols and interactions one well known in current pop culture It has a place in fiction just like other features of pop culture disliked by some readers of serious novels I daresay Olga Tokarczuk thought about all this as well as hardline Polish Catholic clergy s dislike of astrology when she decided to put it in Drive Your Plow although she wouldn t have known that the novel would be translated to English at a time when astrology is gaining in popularity among younger people.Janina seemed so similar although not, I hasten to add, in her most extreme actions to a couple of women whose posts I d read years ago in pet forums, that I wondered if the translator had read the same forums and taken inspiration from the writing style of these people She shares other characteristics with them beyond narrative voice a level of intelligence and expertise in her chosen interests which a lot of people wouldn t think a mad cat lady type would have and anger and hardcore views about animal rights usually associated with recently converted young vegans It turns out that a linguistic similarity, the capitalisation of certain nouns, such as Animals, was present in the original Polish novel thank you GR Agnieszka Later in the book, extended English prose quotations from William Blake Janina s favourite author, of whom she makes unpublished Polish translations as a hobby indicated that he was actually the inspiration behind her capitalisations He was writing at a time when this capitalisation was accepted, and not necessarily an indicator of personal eccentricity, corporate brand speak, or of a story for children, as it is now Since reading Drive Your Plow, and this review, I ve also read Henry Fielding s Tom Jones 1749 , in the Penguin edition that preserves the original capitalisation, and where it is used for every Noun Blake, writing decades later, was selective about his use of caps For all its positives, I also thought the book might be shooting itself in the foot while trying to do too many clever things in one go The plot twist seemed to undermine the novel s causes greater respect for women like Janina, for environmental and animal rights activism and opposition to conservative Catholicism This comes to an aspect of the book that I found tricky to write about I revised draft reviews than once in the hope of being both true to my own views, and diplomatic about religion In the end, the latter became easier I realised that whilst, historically, the Christian doctrine of man s dominion over the animals can be seen as background to the current environmental situation, the exploitation of nature is nowadays criticised by some prominent clergy Although this varies greatly by country and denomination, in general there are practices various branches of Christianity used to support, and which they no longer condone Sweeping judgements about the entire religion are one of the ways in which the narrator goes too far Although to an anticlerical Pole reading Plow when it was first published ten years ago and anticlericalism has a long tradition in Polish intellectual life these views may not have sounded unfairly sweeping Many of these ecologically minded Christian developments happened since the book s first publication, and in other countries Traditional Polish Catholicism was, and is, very different church from the 2000s Church of England, with its fair trade craft fairs Anglicanism is a denomination for which it has been no great leap to speak out about the environment Drive Your Plow is ambiguous about what is heroism and what is villainy In this it has similarities to the Channel 4 series Utopia with its plot relating to human overpopulation By showing a character whom most would consider to be going too far, it prompts its audience, at any rate those who agree that there is an underlying issue, to consider where they think lines should be drawn, and what might be done in the real world I felt that Drive Your Plow, through its ambiguous narrative tone, has potential to appeal to readers who disagree with Janina s views on animal rights as well as those broadly sympathetic although in practice I am not sure if that has been borne out.One could say that Tokarczuk was using the novel s ambiguity to protect herself given the far greater conservatism on animal rights issues in Poland, as compared with Britain But in Poland the novel was not received as ambiguous It apparently led to new debate about hunting, according to an interview with Tokarczuk earlier in 2018 Hunting has become a hot political issue in Poland since the novel was published, but at the time few were thinking about it Some people said that once again Tokarczuk is an old crazy woman doing weird things, but then this big discussion started on the internet about what we can do about this very patriarchal, Catholic tradition Thank you to Neil s review for prompting me to look at this interview The pro hunting clerical tradition represented by the priest in Drive Your Plow remains alive and well in Poland, and was influencing political policy seven years after the book s publication, in favour of logging at the once revered ancient Bia owie a Forest Sections of the Catholic and Orthodox churches have played a partisan role in the debate, with a passage from Genesis be fruitful, and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it often used to justify increased logging.One orthodox priest from Hajn wka, Leonid Szeszko, recently called for scientific, environmental and NGOs which opposed the logging plans to be banned.Szyszko, who has championed the logging law, is a regular guest on the ultra conservative Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station, and appears at conferences with a priest garbed in a forester s green uniform.Even if one reads with awareness of this, the prevailing attitudes detailed in the book seem old fashioned and sometimes downright strange from a British perspective I doubt it would be generally considered extreme or weird to make meticulous reports about infractions of hunting byelaws in the UK, even if some locals in some areas might not be receptive And in UK cities it is pretty common to be vegetarian, like Janina, or vegan Fur farming another sub plot in Drive Your Plow has been illegal in Britain for about 15 years now, and was already in decline before that It was quite eye opening to see how differently these things were evidently regarded by the majority in Poland The hunt chaplain s sermon seemed almost medieval Nor, in contemporary Britain, would the established church be considered the primary upholder of man s dominion over the animals , as the Polish Catholic Church is in Drive Your Plow The CofE is both less influential, and rather different in its prevailing politics I wrote in a draft a couple of weeks before posting this review that it was inconceivable that former Archbishop of Canterbury and national treasure Rowan Williams, would utter anything like Father Rustle s sermon Then, emphasising this, in the intervening fortnight, Williams spoke out in support of Extinction Rebellion, a new protest movement calling for government action on climate change It wouldn t be correct, either, to take the book s view of the Polish Catholic church as globally characteristic of Catholicism, even if conservative Catholicism is influential in some countries Semantically, being against nature conservation always seems a very poor use of the word conservative Famously, there was Pope Francis 2015 encyclical Laudato si a follow up to Polish Pope John Paul II s 1990 message The Ecological Crisis There are also smaller initiatives including a number of orders of nuns making active efforts to live sustainably.In Plow, the conservative Catholicism of Father Rustle and the hunters needs to be set against the narrator as a folkloric pagan symbol in herself I had passing thoughts of the crone aspect of the Celtic neopagan triple goddess, but this was a Polish book so it didn t seem terribly relevant Mimi s excellent review points out, among other things, that Janina is a Jungian crone, and makes a highly plausible connection with Baba Yaga I was kicking myself for not having thought of Baba Yaga Thus the narrator could also be connected loosely with Slavic neopaganism, a small movement which tends to be openly critical of Christianity than is contemporary Western paganism Incidentally, this is the first time since veganism became a major social trend that I ve encountered a novel with a narrator who might be on the wavelength of hardcore vegans i.e the people who post confrontationally under Guardian cookery articles about meat, or who actively campaign Actually, have I ever There is surprisingly little about vegetarianism and veganism in novels, considering how common they are among urban creative people in the global North Anyway, it would be interesting to hear what young vegans who were into astrology thought of Drive Your Plow Janina is in tune with their views than most fictional characters of her age but is her ambiguity too discomfiting In yet another of her interviews for the Guardian during 2018, Olga Tokarczuk mentioned that Leonora Carrington s The Hearing Trumpet was one of her favourite books, and an influence on Drive Your Plow I read it not long before Plow I d been thinking of reading The Hearing Trumpet for years, and here was a good reason The parallels between the two books are evident now a month after finishing Plow than they did in close up, while I was reading Tokarczuk s book Transparently, both are about older female protagonists who are not taken seriously by many of the other characters but they are centred and respected by their respective first person narratives They are not the kind of unreliable narrators that seem crafted to show up and trip up the protagonists, even if it is evident that the other characters don t see them as they see themselves Both books are somewhat ambiguous and or potentially shooting themselves in the foot they kind of celebrate their heroines as interesting women who don t follow societal norms and who should be listened to , alongside indicating why many people, even sympathetic people, might disregard their views to some extent Tokarczuk has also used ambiguity, or rather tact and subtlety in the allusive matter of Janina s ailments But this ambiguity is also what makes these books art rather than merely socio political arguments and campaigns They don t provide the easy arguments one might like them to As in The Hearing Trumpet, people with dementia may be imagining fascinating worlds inside their heads and they deserve to live in a friendly environment that meets their needs and to be taken seriously but the dementia can also make it difficult to keep them anchored in the real world and to be sure what they say is real Old ladies obsessed with animals may be intelligent people who ve had interesting, repsonsible jobs, and be driven campaigners but they might go too far and occasionally, in serious ways than in writing endless complaint letters in the proverbial green ink And the I think about the idea of Janina as Baba Yaga, the coherent the novel s ambiguity seems.I ve owned other books by Olga Tokarczuk for several years, but this new one is the first of hers I ve actually read I was impressed though given that Plow is one of her lighter efforts, and still contained so much, it did not make me much less daunted by the prospect of reading Flights, which had been steadily sweeping 2018 s translation shortlists before it e.g Czes aw Mi osz, History of Polish Literature, p.xiv, a curious dichotomy a or less permanent trait of Polish letters namely an emotional moralism obviously nourished by a strong residue of Christian ethics has coexisted with anti clericalism and an utter skepticism as to any dogmas religious or political Read Sept Oct 2018 reviewed Nov 2018 revised March 2019 for clarity style , and to incorporate points from comments about Polish anticlericalism and Janina as crone. Janina gift of god, god s grace No wonder Mrs Duszejko rejects her given name as unsuitable One has to tell people what to think There s no alternative Otherwise someone else will do it. Think about that As we are instructed in the first chapter s heading NOW PAY ATTENTION See there is an alternative Someone else will do it.There s , so much obviously , no I don t just mean words, pages, I mean that made me gurgle with laughter and delight He came to me in the Night and squatted by my bed I wasn t asleep Are you asleep he asked Are you religious I had to put the question Yes he replied proudly I m an atheist These writers In a way, people like her, those who wield a pen, can be dangerous At once a suspicion of fakery springs to mind Indeed And the lady writer, the Grey Lady she who looked like a survivor from Pompeii , she has such insight and wisdom, yes Such an intuitive intelligence She cannot stay in this awful place, with all these murders going on She comes to tell Mrs Duszejko that she is selling her house It s impossible to live in a place where things like that happen Those dreadful murders have brought various minor deceptions and improprieties to light It turns out I have been living among monsters, she said fretfully You are the only honest person in the whole place Hilarious What s that you say You don t see why that s funny Oh no, I m not going to tell you You will just have to read this to find out I would like to express my admiration for the absolutely bravura performance of Antonia Lloyd Jones At one point Mrs Duszejko and her friend Dizzy are translating a verse of Blake s poetry into Polish So they try out several different versions, all of which are translated for us into English, from the Polish, which was a translation from the English A daunting task if ever there was one, but wonderfully resolved. Hunters is dying in the Polish hills animals getting revenge Dat s what totally not nutso old laydee Janina thinks This was my first and last time reading anything by award winning was the award for Giantest Poop Published That Year Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead s premise kinda sounds like a supernatural murder mystery but it s not It s basically just a screwball old lady muttering her disapproval of hunters and hunting in general while wittering on about the poetry of William Blake and astrology I feel like Tokarczuk can t be so stupid that she doesn t understand hunting isn t some black and white moral question that hunters are one dimensionally evil, sadistic, macho, bloodthirsty thugs so I m giving her the benefit of the doubt that she writes them that way because her first person narrator is so unhinged Because hunting is a much complex issue Especially if you re a meat eater which 95% of Western society are then you can t complain about someone going out to get their own meat through skill and the tradition of hunting, rather than simply buying it conveniently processed and packaged from the shop And it s healthier to get your meat that way too Alright I m putting away the soapbox Even without the politics, this is a really crummy novel The feeble plot inches along at a glacial pace while we have to sit through Janina s tedious day to day activities monologuing on and on about sodding Jupiter in Venus house and Sagittarius doing something with Gemini and who gives a fuck What utter drivel astrology is Then she s with her boring hippy friends wanking over Blake s poetry until all the reveals get crammed into the finale, none of which was satisfying or that interesting Don t bother with this overrated rubbish Drive Your Plow Over the Crap That Is This Novel Would you abet a murder I don t mean to actually commit a murder But could you abet one You know, could you acquiesce, encourage, look the other way Do you have it in you to obfuscate when authorities ask Might you be an accessory after the fact, and warn of pursuit If you smear this substance on a piece of wood, the female beetles will rush there to lay their eggs They ll come running to this particular log from all over the area they can smell it from several kilometres away Why don t people smell like that I asked Who told you that they don t I can t smell anything Maybe you don t know you can, my dear, and in your human pride you persist in believing in your free will Would it depend upon the motive Not the usual ones like money, lust, loathing, but could you abide it for a cause What if it was a cause you didn t believe in yourself What if the cause was allegorical Hmmm Hmmm I d like a warm jacket, I said shyly, and the girl looked at me intelligently, with a gleam in her dark eyes She nodded encouragingly.So after a short pause I continued To keep me warm and protect me from the rain I want it to be different from all the other jackets, not grey or black, not the kind that s easily mistaken in a cloakroom I want it to have pockets, lots of pockets for keys, treats for the Dogs, a mobile phone, documents then I won t have to carry a bag, and can keep my hands free As I made my request, I realized I was placing myself in her hands I think I might have something for you, replied Good News and led me into the depths of the long, narrow space.Would it depend upon the murderer Would the victim matter Hey, you, get down from there, I said That s enough Silence fell, and with satisfaction I heard my voice echoing off the vault and naves, becoming strong no wonder one would be carried away by one s own oration here I m talking to you Can t you hear me Get down Rustle stared at me with his eyes wide open, terrified, his lips quivering, as if, taken by surprise, he were trying to find something suitable to say But he couldn t do it Well, well, he kept saying, not exactly helplessly, nor aggressively Get down from that pulpit this instant And get out of here I shouted.When the moment comes, and it will, what will you do If I wanted to write my memoirs, how would I go about it I said, sounding confused You must sit at the table and force yourself to write It ll come of its own accord You mustn t censor yourself You must write down everything that comes into your head Strange advice I wouldn t want to write down everything I d only like to write down the things that I find good and positive I thought she was going to say , but she didn t I felt disappointed Disappointed she asked, as if she could read my thoughts Yes When one can t speak, one should write, she said It helps a lot Thank you SO much fitzcarraldoeditions for sending me this lovely copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead I absolutely loved it and I wouldn t be surprised if Tokarczuk nabbed the Man Booker International Prize for the second year running She s certainly found a new fan in me, and I ll be seeking out her other books..Described as a subversive, eco thriller, Drive Your Plow follows Janina but she doesn t consider that her real name Duszejko as she recounts the disappearance of her two dogs But when members of the local hunting club start showing up murdered, Duszejko tries to help with the investigation, gifted as she is in astrology..This book is WEIRD, but good weird, like really good weird From the first few pages I knew I was going to love it, as I listened to Duszejko muse on the importance of names, her preference of animals over people, her remote life in a Polish village with only 3 other neighbours during the winter Her passion for astrology is fascinating, and tbh I was convinced of its accuracy Although admittedly she does get quite technical in a couple of places which can be hard to follow..Once again with the long listed books there were some incredible translator moments that had my nerdy brain exploding Mrs Duszejko and Dizzy are huge fans of William Blake where the title comes from apparently and they like to translate his poems from English to Polish At one point, they have the verse in English, then in the original Tokarczuk obviously has four possible Polish translations, each slightly different Lloyd Webber then back translates the four different Polish verses of Blake into English, keeping the subtle nuances each Polish verse has that makes it different to the ORIGINAL English Just Wow..Truly a unique and original novel with unforgettable characters, and I ll be hunting pun not intended down the rest of her work It s a strange story, like a bad dream, isn t it After about 30 pages of this book, I was talking to my son about it and I told him it felt to me very much like a Coen brothers movie he is an avid reader and has a degree in film studies so books and movies often crop up when we talk it is darkly comic but also sad, it skips around genres especially comedy, thriller and noir a jumble of genres , it has memorably eccentric characters and it has a plot that is almost but not quite something that could actually happen It is this slight step sideways from reality that gives the book its strange atmosphere and, for me, its quirky appeal If you ve watched Fargo, my memory of that movie I haven t watched it for several years has a similar atmosphere Some of the writing is very cinematic and leaves you with vivid mental images exactly like you have been watching a movie I put my arms around her, and there we stood together a fake Wolf and a small woman in a pool of light from the firehouse window The shadows of the dancers flew across us.I should perhaps explain that our narrator is, at this point, at a fancy dress party wearing a wolf costume At 30 pages, I was comparing this to a movie At about the halfway point, I discovered it IS a movie The movie version is called Spoor and was controversial in its home country it was denounced by a Polish news agency as a deeply anti Christian work that promoted eco terrorism The Guardian but went on to win awards I d like to watch it, if only to see it it turns out Coen brothers like as I felt when reading the book.Our narrator is Janina Duszejko, although she hates to be called that name and, in general, does not like people to have official names and other characters are referred to by the names she has given them based on what comes to mind when she first meets them This is just one of her eccentricities The story begins when she and Oddball discover the body of Big Foot who has apparently choked on a bone This triggers a series of deaths in the community which our narrator investigates , often via her other key interest in astrology which she is convinced points towards animals being the murderers It s possibly not a surprise that the police do not take her letters seriously, although this might be an indication of my personal view of astrology.Whilst I might not place much any value on astrology, I am a very keen nature watcher and I found the nature notes in the book a fascinating accompaniment to the story I don t go into novels expecting to learn new things about the natural world, but I did find out new things as I read this I did not know, for example, that fieldfares defend themselves against predators by flying above them and defecating on them Our narrator she doesn t like her name, so I am not using it prefers animals to humans At first, it therefore seems odd that she thinks the animals are the murderers, but she isn t thinking of it as murder when she blames them, but as revenge for hunting that has taken so many of their species The animal rights side to the story marked the author as, like her narrator, a crazy old woman in the eyes of many, but hunting has since become a big issue in Poland The Guardian interview with the author points out Hunting has become a hot political issue in Poland since the novel was published, but at the time few were thinking about it Some people said that once again Tokarczuk is an old crazy woman doing weird things, but then this big discussion started on the internet about what we can do about this very patriarchal, Catholic tradition As someone in the book says We have a view of the world, but Animals have a sense of the world, do you see And so we find ourselves in a darkly humorous, rather bizarre world where our narrator dreams of her mother and grandmother in her boiler room, struggles with her Ailments various words are capitalised like this, a bit like Winnie the Pooh only, obviously, rather different , finds dead bodies, attends fancy dress parties and various other strange activities I think it is best not to try to make logical sense of the narrative but to accept what it throws at you In this sense, the book is slightly similar to the author s Man Booker International prize winning Flights, although that was far disjointed Both come from a different story telling tradition to the one we are accustomed to in Western Europe From the same Guardian interview The literature of central Europe is very different from that of the west, she Tokarczuk explains The first thing is that we don t trust reality as much as you do Reading English novels I always adore the ability to write without fear about inner psychological things that are so delicate In such a form you can develop a story in a very linear way, but we don t have this patience We feel that in every moment something must be wrong because our own story wasn t linear Another difference is that you are rooted in psychoanalysis while we re still thinking in a mythical, religious way Having written a too long review, I will finish by saying this quote just goes to show that it difficult for Western European readers to get to grips with this book All I can say is that I really enjoyed reading it despite having a very different world view to both the narrator and the author It s not as mind blowingly, disorientatingly brilliant as Flights, but is a fascinating read I guess tracking down the movie in English is not going to be easy, though. Now shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize Why is it that old women women of your age are so concerned about animals Aren t there any people left to take care of I could sense his disgust as he cast negative judgement on my taste This book is a noir style mystery novel written by the author of the Man Booker International winning Flights and at first the clear mystery that the reader is faced with is how the author of such a complex, lengthy, erudite and Sebaldesque book can for their next book produce a short, sub Nesbo genre book perhaps only followed by the sub mystery of its own MBI longlisting The author solves the mystery in this Guardian article where her explanation is disarming, involving a two book deal and a handy fashion for detective stories although I was a little disappointed to be an unwilling and unwitting victim.I do not normally read much crime fiction and the inclusion of Snap on the Booker list did not encourage me in that direction However as part of reading the shortlist for the Guardian 2018 Not The Booker prize I recently read Dark Pines by Will Dean a Nordic noir crime book by a UK author living in Sweden And I was very struck by the similarities between the two books set in an isolated and wooded part of the country a main character with a number of quirks an isolated hamlet with a cast of eccentrics the area dominated by a male hunting fraternity, who it is increasingly clear have links to all of the main players in the area including business men and the police a shadowy brothel a series of grisly murders with an underlying link and all of men associated with the hunting establishment an eventual motive fuelled by a twisted sense of justice not recognised by the conventional legal system.Even though or should that be because Dark Pines was pure Genre fiction I found it far enjoyable and much better written My views on the writing of this book were not aided by things such as a Middle Eastern doctor called Ali who cannot speak great Polish and says I ll soon see what s wailing you or a trite series of observations on male drivers of large cars and what they might be compensating for These could be assigned to the quirky narrator but I feel that the author identifies with her character.And my key issue with this book was that I could not empathise with the main character at all I found myself identifying with those around her, which given my negative views on hunting, is really quite a feat on the author s behalf I think there were two main reasons for this the character s preference for animals over humans and her obsession with astrology the first made me found the book at best morally ambiguous the second lead to me frequently skipping chunks of text The author calls her books like Flights constellation novels to quote from the Guardian article just as the ancients looked at stars in the sky and found ways to group them and then to relate them to the shapes of creatures or figures, so what she calls her constellation novels throw stories, essays and sketches into orbit, allowing the reader s imagination to form them into meaningful shapes.I hope that the author sticks to constellations as a way of shaping novels structure rather than content in the future.Rating rounded up due to the author s general although far from uniform excellence in Flights.
- 288 pages
- Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych
- Olga Tokarczuk
- 24 January 2019 Olga Tokarczuk