The Swordfish

Hugo Claus, Author, Ruth Levitt, Translator, Ruth Levitt, Illustrator Peter Owen Publishers $34.95 (104p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0985-1
This 1989 novella from one of Belgium's leading postwar writers traces the events that lead, one fine summer day, to an inexplicable bloody crime. Along the way, Claus lays bare the illicit, tragicomic longings of a seemingly respectable cast of Flemish provincials, among them an aging divorcee who dreams of her maid, a headmaster who writes adulterous love-poetry by night and a dying schoolteacher whose last desire is to save a student's soul. In the midst of these secretive adults, holding their stories together, is Martin, a young boy obsessed with the Crucifixion. Claus's themes and jokes may put off younger American readers, for whom small-town erotic claustrophobia is less a remembered fact than it is the stuff of old movies, and for whom the creeping Coca-Cola-ization of a traditional farming community yields only worn-out ironies (e.g., Martin's confusion of Christ with Clint Eastwood, or neoclassical poem written in earshot of the TV). Others may tire of the novella's unconvincing child's eye-view passages. The mysterious crime at the heart of his story has no satisfactory motive, even when all the facts are out. What makes the novella work despite these faults is Claus's giddy instinct for plot and pace, his openhearted enjoyment of sexual eccentricity and his nostalgia for a truly romantic countryside. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 08/01/1996
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