This man dispenses truth as readily as he breathes out air. That is how much his rule is taken for granted. Right now he has just about had it with women, so he says. See, there he is, yelling that all he needs is this woman. His woman. There he is, as unknowing as the trees all around.
Elfriede Jelinek's Lust is an oddly compelling novel. Extraordinarily violent, unashamedly graphic and disquietingly amoral, it thoroughly deconstructs the myth of marriage and romantic love with corrosive and scouring yet intricate and effective prose.
The novel centres around Hermann, the manager of an Austrian paper mill and his wife Gerti. From the outset, Gerti is established as an object, a possession. The omniscient narrative ensures that the reader is kept distant and unattached. From our place well outside the relationship, we watch. We watch Gerti submit masochistically to her husband, watch him pour his juices into her. There is a constant reiteration of the Man as Father, the Man as Direktor, the Man as God, and while Gerti fights against this hegemony she never succeeds in escaping it.
Gerti's fight somewhat sympathetically observed by Jelinek, whose voice is omnipresent, guiding us through the text, pointing out the anomolies of married life and sexual relationships that may otherwise go unquestioned in our reading.
And that is certainly her intention here. This is never a novel that lets you escape into it; this is no comfortable fantasy. Every sentence drips with blood. The contempt for men, for subjugation, for the cliches of society seethes below each letter, threatening to flood into the empty space of the page. Jelinek, however, always in control of her prose, never gives it the chance. The novel is completely devoid of dialogue in a traditional sense. If a character's speech is recounted--and it rarely is--it appears alongside all of the prose. As a result, each paragraph is a perfectly aligned rectangle of text, a visual echo of the heavy, solid Man that dominates the world of the novel.
This structure, this style, is exhausting to read, though never unenjoyable. Jelinek's prose is lyrical in a way that authors like Cormac McCarthy aspire to, though no other author I've read has acheived so successful a style. Indeed, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for "her musical flow of voices and counter-voices. . .and. . .extraordinary linguistic zeal," and the award was well earnt. The omnipresent narrator speaks in a voice that is nothing short of poetic; precise, cynical and confrontational. Each paragraph flows at a tumbling pace, linking images, ideas and exposition in such a way that forces readers to organise them into a correspondance themselves rather than have the novel's meaning and significance spoonfed to them. In this, there are obvious parallels with the work of Austrian film-maker Michael Haneke (who adapted another of her novels, The Piano Teacher).
So in closing, this is certainly not a book for the casual reader. There is a huge deal of enjoyment to be taken from this masterpiece (if not in the appreciation of its totally unique aesthetic, then in the truly inspired word-play and absurd humour that runs through the novel), though the reader is expected to work for it. It is challenging, deeply disturbing at times, and exhausting to decode, but the rewards are so great that any cost to reach them is negligible. In a time where so many mediocre works are filling bookshelves, this novel will remind you why literature is important.
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