In an essay examining The Kindly Ones in the context of other Holocaust literature, Garth Risk Hallberg nails the reason why this book is so polarizing:
But it is Littell who, by writing a 975-page novel from the point-of-view of a sexually damaged S.S. officer, has invited the burdens he must now carry. His work can achieve its totalizing ambitions only to the extent that it exhausts every facet of its monstrous subject. That Littell manages to embody so completely the difficulties of finding a new literary approach to his subject thus testifies, . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Steve Mitchelmore's review of The Kindly Ones starts out by citing Beckett on Les 120 journées de Sodome, and then Steve quotes Kafka on writing ("the reward for serving the devil"). Anyone at all familiar with Littell's book can see what a great set-up this is, and I don't think I've seen this particular bit of context yet applied to The Kindly Ones.
Of course go and read the entire piece. Here's one particular point that I believe hasn't been made before:
While searching for a cure or an answer, Aue expresses admiration for the capacity . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Jonathan Littell's recently released uber-novel The Kindly Ones may be running aground against American critics' puritanism, but don't expect Littell to care much. MobyLives reports that he recently told WSJ journalist Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg that coming to America for a book tour isn't his business.
At RSB Carey Harrison has a nice post on The Kindly Ones. Carey takes into account Daniel Mendelsohn's lengthy, considered review in the NYRB, and both Carey and Daniel try to understand why Littell has made his book so dirty.
Here's some of Carey's take:
Mendelsohn’s conclusion grants The Kindly Ones a majestic, honourable defeat in pursuit of the indescribable. To my knowledge, he is the only reviewer so far to have seriously tried to assess how the hero’s ghastly secret crimes, and . . . continue reading, and add your comments
The Guardian provides the first UK review I've seen of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones.
This is a decidedly positive review, and it provides some extra-literary info that I was not aware of:
The first significant work of Jonathan Littell, Francophone son of American spy author Robert, it was an entirely unexpected success. Gallimard, the publisher, originally printed 5,000 copies. Within months, Les Bienveillantes had sold 300,000 copies, had been welcomed by critics as the most important book for 50 years and had won the Goncourt and Femina prizes. Stupendous sums were paid for its . . . continue reading, and add your comments
This Space has made available in English the text of a commentary on Maurice Blanchot written by The Kindly Ones author Jonathan Littell.
Its an intriguing piece that starts with a simple question:
how to write in the wake of this thinking [Blanchot's] without being carried away by its language? No one, to my knowledge, has managed it (except perhaps Foucault, Levinas: frightening predecessors) . . .
Littell then begins what he considers an almost impossible task by considering the nature of literature, as understood by Blanchot:
The first thing one could say about it is . . . continue reading, and add your comments
My copy of this brick arrived this week, and while I intend to give it a fair hearing and read it in full, things like this are complicating my plans:
This massive (just short of a thousand pages in the English (and original French) edition), prix Goncourt-winning epic was certainly one of the most anticipated-by-us titles of 2009, and while we’re not sorry that we worked our way through it — it will be much discussed and reviewed in the months to come (yes, even Sam Tanenhaus and the NYTBR won’t be able to avoid this one), . . . continue reading, and add your comments
If you know just one thing about translated literature in 2009, it’s probably that French mega-novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) is publishing in English this year. Expectations are high, especially after 2666 has primed us for enormous novels in translation.
Bookforum (which continues to snub 2666 without explanation) gets in an early review of The Kindly Ones, and although the review is positive in tone, there’s not much here to convince me that I need to wade through these 992 pages. Reviewer Leland de la Durantaye duly states that the plot is "brilliantly organized and . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Something worth keeping an eye on.
After a languid intercontinental auction that stretched for more than a week, the American rights to Jonathan Littell’s novel “Les Bienveillantes,” which became a publishing sensation in France, have been sold to HarperCollins, the publisher confirmed yesterday. . . .
“Les Bienveillantes,” which translates as “The Kindly Ones,” is a 903-page novel written in French by an American author with a defiant Nazi SS officer as its hero. It captivated the publishing industry this month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where publishers speculated that the American and British rights could fetch . . . continue reading, and add your comments