I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to continue reading this series after the first book. It’s one of those book that is incredibly intense, complex, erudite, interesting, audacious, and fantastical in a lot of ways. But it also felt like once I read one of the books, I felt like I had read all three. And in a way, I think I am right. By the end of the third book, some 1250 pages into the whole project, I am not sure what more I got out of it except for complex ideas and thought that the first book didn’t already cover.
On the other hand, this was a satisfying marathon of a reading experience. I can’t honestly say there’s much of a plot here. There’s a general conceit, several scene that happens in a narrative way, but in terms of plot, no, not so much.
Instead, it’s more like there’s a scene setting, and then there’s a random, fascinating, slightly boring, somewhat repetitive/mundane rehashing of multiple topics each explored in their own way before the scene ultimately closes.
But what these scenes are a so bizarre and also audacious, it’s hard not to be completely impressed. So you might have a scene in a nightclub, where a few government agents of the kind of undercover and covert nature corner an informer and perform a nauseating scene of violence on him. This is a scene where nothing specifically awful happens, but it’s treated with supreme realism and intelligence. So the effect is, imagine a scene of violence from a highly cinematic film or novel, but threaded through the lens of a world in which trauma can actually happen and does happen, and imagine how different that scene would be. So for example, imagine an American action film told through the narrative lens of psychological horror and literature, as opposed to the cartoonish of action films. This books explores those moments.
It’s sort of like watching two people square for a real fight, after a lifetime of watching action films. Waiting for the crack of a thrown punch, you’re instead presented with the sickening thud of a jaw cracking and someone becoming concussed. So a lot of these novels feels like a European response, from a country that spent decades under a fascist government that knows a thing or two about violence, to America finally being admitted back into the world of consequences in the wake of 9/11. The scene in the nightclub is the precursor to a beheading, but from the perspective of a world in which beheadings are real, have consequence, can’t be taken back, and can happen to Americans.
It reminds me a lot of several of Michael Haneke films, in which it’s discovered that the bare threat of violence has real and obvious impact on people as opposed of the overdetermined kinds of violence we’re used to seeing in media.
But also, it’s kind of a modern Don Quixote, a more modern kind of Proust, and a more artful version of Roberto Bolano’s 2666.