cover image The Rat

The Rat

Gunter Grass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $17.95 (371pp) ISBN 978-0-15-175920-0

The marvelous flounder, resurrected from the novel of that name, appears in Grass's new novel, his first large work of fiction since the talking fish swam into view, accompanied here by singing jellyfish. The tin drummer, now a balding man of 60 hampered by a bothersome prostate, also returns. A melange of fable, history, polemic, diatribe and jeremiad, its prose interspersed with verse, The Rat is a teeming sea of story and saga that defies brief description and amply displays Grass's fecund imagination. The She-rat is a Christmas gift requested by the narrator, and she is a mixed blessing, devoting herself mostly to denouncing the human race and its legacy of garbage, radioactive trash, toxic chemicals. Contemptuously ridiculing humankind's pretensions, she informs the narrator that she and her kind are ""sick'' of the stories by which man seeks to sustain himself, ``to put off the end with words,'' and the quarrel between them takes on the weight and seriousness of moral judgment, just as Grass's gifts of fantasy and his strong, skeptical intelligence vie for dominance in his fiction. Manheim's heroic translation lucidly conveys Grass's linguistic idiosyncrasies, bizzare neologisms and madcap eccentricities. (June 27)