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 written," although I see nothing in the review to convince me of that fact.
The book’s animating question, as described by de la Durantaye, similarly leaves me wanting:
The reader faces a powerful if implicit question: What if those we condemn did not select evil at one particular moment but, instead, found themselves in a situation where all options seemed bad, where a compromising choice was made, followed by another and another as the slope became too slippery for them to climb their way back? This does not constitute innocence, but it does demand a different answer to the question of why men and women treated their human brothers and sisters as they did.
Of course this question is hardly novel, even if you limit the field to WWII books. While it’s possible that The Kindly Ones might bring something new to this matter, there’s nothing in the Bookforum review to make me believe that.
I’ll remain open-minded about The Kindly Ones, but this first review doesn’t make a good impression.