On a windswept Polish plain near the Czech border, old Mrs Duszejko watches over the holiday houses of her neighbours. She has a keen and interesting mind which spends a lot of its time reflecting on people’s natal charts, including the mooted time and manner of their deaths. Of which there are some. First, her poaching neighbour Bigfoot. Then the Commandant of the local police station, then Innerd, the local shady businessman, and finally, we gather, Father Rustle, just after dedicating a chapel to St Hubert, patron saint of hunters. Though as she reflects, this is odd, given that Hubert became a saint precisely because he gave up hunting.
Duszejko’s companions are Dizzy, IT guy for the police, with whom she translates William Blake into Polish; Good News, who runs a second hand clothes shop, and her elderly neighbour Oddball. Foremost among Duszejko’s concerns is the natural world and the fate of animals in particular. She doesn’t eat meat. Secondly, there are her Ailments, which seem to stem in large part from her extreme sensitivity to the world, though this is often covered by a wryly bemused take on it. She is also conducting Mendelian research on sweet peas to determine if acquired characteristics can be inherited.
Tokarczuk - a household name in Poland - trained as a Jungian therapist and the novel echoes with many Jungian themes. Astrology is one of them, and what a rich symbolic system it is. So while on one level this is a murder mystery, and on another a plea for better treatment of animals, it’s also about the depth and complexity of life in general. Duszejko is an intriguingly whimsical narrator who obviously caught the attention of the Man Booker International judges in 2018. The translator is also very deserving of the prize.
- Paperback: 274 pages
- Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions (18 October 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1913097250
- ISBN-13: 978-1913097257
- Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.9 x 11.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 200 g
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews