Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Kindly Ones, Trashy Holocaust Novel?

Happy Thursday, readers. The Ides of March approach. Do you know where your betrayer is?

The Kindly Ones is a novel by Jonathan Littell which fits nicely in the old man recollects his life genre. People seem worked up about the whole thing, though. Perhaps because the old man is a once upon a time Nazi who sometimes slept with his sister and also spends a the majority of the book describing, in apparently great detail, the bodily horror he, and others, inflicted on fellow human beings during the Holocaust. Yet still he asks, if not for forgiveness, then at least for sympathy from the reader--an understanding that in a similar situation perhaps you would've done the same or worse (except for maybe the part where he slept with his sister).

The press seems divided as to whether the novel bravely explores the Holocaust from a fresh, albeit slightly evil perspective, or if the whole thing is a l0w-brow "sex n' fashion horror comic" themed bit of cynicism and vulgarity. Sarah Nelson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, believes the novel "gimmicky", that it "leans towards prurience," and that American publishers are banking on "the seemingly bottomless...appetite for scandalous attitudes and behavior." Michael Korda called it "brilliant" and counts it in the same league as Crime and Punishment and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Canadian Press wonders if the novel might be an example of "Nazi Porn."

Here's my haven't-read-the-book-yet take. Littell is an American Frenchman who lives in Barcelona, Spain. His father was the American mystery writer, Roger Littell. Littell's first book, as discussed at Omnivoracious, was a mass market science fiction novel called Bad Voltage. Here was a tale of a "riot-torn future Paris", of simboots and violence and terror, of revolutionary youths and their unfortunate tendency to fall for uptown girls, throwing a wrench in their revolutionary plans. In light of this, it got me wondering if maybe there's not another way to view The Kindly Ones and it's gimmickry, violence, incest, and sexual shenanigans. Pulp Holocaust, perhaps?

Then again, I'm reading Lolita, at the moment, and it's nothing if not trashy and vile and also about a monstrous narrator asking us dear readers to please, please, don't overlook the fact that though we may see his acts as horrible, he is still, in the end, the same as us, a human being at the mercy of fate and his own mysterious desires. So, who's to say that no matter how graphic and disgusting The Kindly Ones may be, no matter how pretentious, it may still be great.

But it probably won't have wrist lasers, though, and that's a shame. Maybe in the sequel.


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