cover image According to the Law: Four Accounts of Mankind

According to the Law: Four Accounts of Mankind

Solvej Balle. Harvill Press, $16 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-129-3

The four interconnected stories in this startling collection by Danish writer Balle are parables about the search for certainty. Seeking the key to humanity's upright posture and locomotion, Nicholas S., a Canadian biochemist, examines the brain of a young woman who has recently died of hypothermia and has bequeathed her body to science. His hairsplitting ruminations about the official guidelines for autopsies and causes of death, coupled with his meticulous preparations to extract the woman's brain, spell out the way in which modern science treats humans like machines, forever missing the forest for the trees. Elsewhere, Tanja L., a Swiss law student, sets off to Barcelona, Madrid and Paris, seeking to understand the nature of pain. Unlike most people, Tanja has seen the pain she inflicts on others. She has paranormal powers that cause passers-by to writhe in agony, collapse and often die. Danish mathematician Rene G. has one all-consuming desire: to occupy an absolute minimum of space, to be no one, a human zero. Even after making love to a young woman, he remains an ""it,"" a thing. And Alette V., an itinerant Quebec sculptor who does portrait busts for passers-by, secretly yearns to merge her being with inanimate matter. When she commits suicide by lying next to an open window on a freezing night, the book brilliantly folds back on itself like a Mobius strip--she is the corpse that Nicholas S. dissected. Balle fills her stories with sly humor and odd little surreal details, leavening her bleak vision and terrified sense of the absurd with a tacit intuition that the world has a meaning not yet fathomed. Translation rights: Lindhardt & Ringhof. (Dec.)