Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban

This book is out of print,
but I managed to get a first edition,
which is kind of cool.
When Kleinzeit opened the door of his flat Death was there, black and hairy and ugly, no bigger than a medium-sized chimpanzee with dirty fingernails.

Not all that big, are you, said Kleinzeit.

Not one of my big days, said Death.  Sometimes I'm tremendous.

As soon as I read Chris's review, I knew this was a book I had to read.  I love the idea of everything tangible thing in a universe being a talking character.

Hoban did not disappoint.

As noted in Chris's review, everything in this novel can talk to Kleinzeit.  Thus, throughout the novel he has conversations with Death, Hospital, Action, the yellow paper, which beckons him to write upon it.  What I particularly liked about this stylistic quirk was that Hoban was able to give objects motives and desires.  Consider this passage from the beginning:
He put his face in front of the bathroom mirror.
I exist, said the mirror.
What about me? said Kleinzeit?
Not my problem, said the mirror. 
I love that the mirror has an interest in its own existence but then cavalierly disregards Kleinzeit's interest in the same question.  The attribution of motive plays out in o
ther interesting ways later, as Kleinzeit tries to escape an apparent inevitable death in Hospital.  As the novel progresses, Kleinzeit and Hospital have a number of exchanges in which Hospital seems to toy with Kleinzeit.  This happens with Death, too; in both cases I found it hilarious.

Given my recent interest in "great" novels, I couldn't help noticing that this is a good novel but not a great one.  Why?  One reason is that I kept reading passages to Brittany, who was consistently not amused.  I think this reflects the fact that there's a universality that this novel lacks.  Absurdity is amusing, but only to people already interested in absurdity. Thus, this novel reads more for a specific audience than a general one.

Although Hoban accomplishes everything he seems to want to accomplish in this novel, I'm quite curious about the potential of this form--the form of anthropomorphizing everything within a universe.  It seems to me that properly worked out, it could lend itself to a great novel.  By anthropomorphizing everything and allowing Kleinzeit to converse with these things, Hoban was able to expose a great deal of conflict and character in his writing.  I think a more ambitious novel could use this flexibility to do interesting things.

But then, what do I know about good writing?  I'm a lawyer (sob, sob, sob).

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I think the absurdity works better in context. Loved this book, though.