Friday, January 09, 2009

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Read Tough Books (preferably over 1000 pages long!)

My response to the cold weather and the general economic gloom seems to be to immerse myself in really long and rather nasty books.

I keep trying to get my head around The Kindly Ones. There are three areas I want to address.

1: It is a deeply unpleasant reading experience. 1000 pages in the head of a total - the word has yet to be invented that is powerful enough to describe an SS officer. But is that a reason to avoid reading it? Life isn't all fluff and love - surely there comes a time to face the darkness?

2: It is a work of fiction. To a certain sort of reader this will be an immediate turnoff. Why write novels about something as awful as the Holocaust? If you want to know what happened read one of the many excellent histories. And yet again I disagree. The Kindly Ones is a novel and so it allows Littell a freedom that is denied the historian. Who can know if his efforts are accurate, if the picture he gives us of a Nazi SS Officer's war is accurate or not? This reader found it utterly convincing. I now feel a renewed disgust for the Nazis and feel reminded of the very real horror of the Holocaust. That is a good thing and to me says Littell has succeeded.

3: Littell has no direct experience of the war. He had to learn about what happened through his own research. Such secondary experience could be seen as a handicap. But how many people who were there survive? How long before WW2 exists only in books and newsreel film? My generation need to keep re-imagining, re-experiencing these terrible events or, as Littell makes clear, it could all happen again.

Well that's probably all very obvious and stupid and confused but it's my 2p on why you should at least consider reading a 1000 pager narrated by a Nazi. The book is out in March so you have some time to gear up to it. By then it will be spring. You will be able to raise your eyes from the page and gaze at those first optimistic greens - a brief reminder of some of the pure joys of life - before you slip back into the pages of death...

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