The Kindly Ones Reviewed at The Complete Review

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), and we’re glad to know what the fuss will be about — and while we were prepared for it not to be a masterpiece (the reviews have been decidedly mixed), we were pretty shocked at what a poor piece of work it is. (At over 3500 words our review is one of the longer ones we’ve ever put up, but it could have been considerably longer: there’s a lot to criticise …..)

Although The Complete Review does roundly criticize The Kindly Ones, it also evoked in me far more interest in this book than did Bookforum’s lukewarm "positive" review.

With the reviews trending either very positive or very negative, and given all of the outrageous stuff chronicled in The Complete Review’s review, It looks like this is shaping up to be a very polarizing book. I’m sure I’ll be registering my opinions at some point, probably not at least for a couple of months.

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I’ve been following the reviews of this book with interest – they seem to be so polarized -either one loves it or absolutely hates it. I was actually surprised at the Complete Review review – I don’t think the book is a complete mess at all, though certainly has some flaws.
I can see why it’s controversial and I can see why most of the negative comments revolve around Max’s personal life and how that is conveyed in the novel. I think what readers may be missing is that first of all, this is a fictional novel and not one that is particularly aiming for total realism. Much of the narrative is told while Max is mad or hallucinating (in my opinion, that’s why the two policemen keep showing up in unlikely places – I think they just show up in his mind – they are part of the “furies” that are pursuing him). Let’s not forget that Littell is also framing this story within the Oresteia trilogy – so some of Max’s personal life will mirror that of Orestes. And that can be exaggerated or played with as Joyce did with Bloom. There are lots of unlikely events that happen in Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum too that suspend a reader’s belief. It’s still a great historical novel. As is this. It’s definitely not perfect, there are flaws in some of the passages and the writing, but my first thought on finishing the book was, wow, what a reading EXPERIENCE! It really was unlike anything I’d read before. So agree or disagree, I do hope you take the opportunity to read it and decide for yourself.

I agree with Blithe Spirit, particularly from “wow” to “before”.
By the way, on January 29th The Complete Review (via its blog) announced it had taken delivery of this 975, half-a-million word book. The review appeared on February 5th.

I daresay that is a endorsement in and of itself.
Actually, while reading TCR’s review, I thought of The Tin Drum, as the simultaneous real/unrealism definitely seemed in the tradition of that book. And I did love TTD . . .

It’s certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste – but in the midst of so much fiction that reads the same, this was certainly original and visceral and lately, that’s what I’m looking for in fiction, and incidentally why I’ve been turning so much to international fiction in translation.

I thought the Complete Review’s review of The Kindly Ones revealed more about the reviewer’s comfort levels than it did about the book. And the grounds on which the reviewer rejects it– he didn’t like the main character and couldn’t identify with him– is a thoroughly amateur basis on which to judge a book.
“Even a figure who revels in causing others pain and suffering would have been more plausible and hence also more compelling. Aue is just a freak.”
Does a figure have to be plausible in order to be compelling? Is The Story of an Eye plausible? Or A Clockwork Orange?

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