Because I heard about this book through Bjork, my mind immediately appointed her as the protagonist’s voice in my head. If you don’t know how oddly endearing that is, search for that video of Bjork talking about her TV.
So although our main character is a nonagenarian, the whimsical nature of the book had no problem merging with my brain’s choice of voice.
The author was unknown to me, but I soon learned that I am acquainted with her former lover’s art — that of Max Ernst. Apparently, Leonora Carrington herself was also a surrealist painter; and yes, that is her work on the cover of this NYRB edition.
And as it is with art, it overflows through different channels of your being and explores different media, but it stems from the same soul. Needless to say, this is also a surrealist novel.
And as it is with surrealist art, we find ourselves wading through allusions, symbolisms; reality becomes warped, and rules are contorted, and it certainly gets weird. But as it is with paintings, there are only certain people you would gift with surrealist art, those are the same people to whom you would recommend this book.
But why do we read novels in the first place? Olga Tokarczuk asks and answers in the afterword — an afterword which, I believe, is already a ratification of her Nobel: “To gain a broader perspective on everything that happens to people on Earth. Our own experience is too small, our beings too helpless, to make sense of the complexity and enormity of the universe; we desire to see life up close, to get a glimpse of the existence of others… we are seeking a communal order, each of us a stitch in a piece of knitted fabric. In short, we expect novels to put forward a certain hypotheses that might tell us what’s what. And banal as it might sound, this is a metaphysical question: On what principles does the world operate?” She continues to write that a nongenre novel like this “passes disturbing comment on things we never stop to question.” As it is with Bjork’s music, so it is with this novel.
There is an act that the protagonist commits close to the end that seemed most monumental to me (a potential spoiler, so I will refrain from mentioning it, although I am up for a discussion with those who have read this) but which Tokarczuk does not mention in the afterword. It is possible that she left it out to urge us to develop our own thoughts. Besides, what is the point of all this art if we don’t?