If Knausgaard is too cheery for you, then this is just your cup of lutefisk.

ARMAND V

Of diplomacy and its discontents: an existentialist-tinged character study by acclaimed Norwegian novelist Solstad (Professor Andersen’s Night, 2012, etc.).

Armand V is a diplomat of some distinction, stationed in various European capitals as a representative of the government of Norway. His best moments, however, are experienced back home, where Solstad takes readers on occasional Joycean tours of the city: “And from this exquisite pearl Armand moved up the right side of Kirkeveien and into one of the most anonymous stretches of downtown Oslo. It is so anonymous that it takes a long time before you realize that’s exactly what it is.” An accidental diplomat—he sort of wants to be a writer, sort of wants to restructure the narrative of European history, sort of wants to do anything but pretend to be nice to Americans—Armand is quietly, indignantly opposed to his country’s military involvement in the Middle East: “If he felt a deep rage toward the United States, he never expressed it. If he had, the result would have been that he was honorably discharged from his position as the Norwegian envoy, and he would have then entered the ranks of retirees.” Naturally, his son rebels by joining the military and becoming an elite soldier, returning from Iraq badly wounded, which doesn’t help Armand’s mood. Were this a linear study in Dostoyevskian pessimism, Solstad’s tale would be a tad bit simpler to take in, but he complicates it by writing the whole thing as almost-too-meta footnotes to a book we're not seeing, with observations on, for instance, Armand’s wife’s twin sister, who doesn’t figure much in the narrative but who “has a unique place in the block of text presented here because she doesn’t belong to the premises for the footnotes but is seen exclusively in relation to the material that has actually been written down.” She’s there for a reason, in short, and it’s more than just to have an affair with Armand to liven the bleakness.

If Knausgaard is too cheery for you, then this is just your cup of lutefisk.

Pub Date: May 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2628-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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