cover image Lust


Elfriede Jelinek. Serpent's Tail, $14.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-85242-183-0

The acclaimed author of The Piano Teacher again reveals the grotesque corruption of post-WW II Austrian society. The setting is an Alpine ski resort, built on the profits generated by tourism and a polluting paper plant. The director of the plant is a swaggering vulgarian who divides his time between oppressing his workers and having sex with his wife. Like virtually all the book's characters, he is driven by his insatiable lust. His wife, Gerti, is gradually breaking down under this constant sexual attention, drinking heavily, until one day she wanders out of the house in a dressing gown and slippers. She is ``rescued'' by Michael, an ambitious young man with designs on a political career, who is no less of a sexual predator than her husband. Jelinek tells this story in a compulsively punning, often witty prose (skillfully translated by Hulse), but the book is disfigured by repetitiveness and the author's undisguised contempt for her characters. Marriage is depicted as little more than legalized prostitution, women are trapped and pummeled but unworthy of sympathy, children are greedy little narcissists, everyone is corrupt, venal and stupid. The town is little more than a parody of Marx's description of capitalism as the war of each against all. Ultimately, for all the considerable skill with which Lust is crafted, it is shrill and deadening. (Apr.)