Friday, July 12, 2024

Rodolfo Walsh's Last Case, by Elsa Drucaroff


Corylus Books, 2024
originally written as El último caso de Rodolfo Walsh, 2010
translated by Slava Faybysh
180 pp

 (read earlier this month)

Not all that long ago I got a news feed about the 2024  Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, and immediately downloaded the entire list of 148 eligible titles in thirty-five languages.  Some of these I've read,   so I went through and picked out an unread title at random.  It was this book, Rodolfo Walsh's Last Case, about which I hesitated at first because the title sounds like one of those mystery novels where authors use "real historical figures as sleuths" (from an article in CrimeReads) which has never really worked for me and come across as sort of cheesy.  But the more I looked at the synopsis, the more I found myself attracted because of the setting -- the military dictatorship of Argentina in 1976.  

In the author's Afterword, she notes that the idea for this book came to her while having her students read various works by Rodolfo Walsh.  One of these, "Letter to my Friends" as she says,
"in which he recounts the death of his daughter, it struck me that concealed within this extraordinary text lay subtle elements from which a full history could be imagined." 

Rodolfo Walsh was a crime novelist/detective story writer who went on to become an investigative journalist, an activist and eventually the chief intelligence officer for the Montoneros, who were, in a nutshell (and for this novel's purposes) left-wing Peronist guerillas active in  their opposition to the right-wing military dictatorship in Argentina.  His book Operation Massacre (1957) had broken new ground in (as a back-cover blurb of my copy from Seven Stories Press notes) "personal investigative journalism."  Walsh had also founded the clandestine news agency ANCLA in 1976 as a response to government censorship as well as the "Information Chain,"  which produced pamphlets of information  meant for "hand-to-hand" distribution."  In this story, the author imagines Walsh as a "protagonist living in those times, a detective, an artist and a militant," saying that he was "all those things" ... 

"doing what he always did, intervening in events the only way he knew how: as a detective in search of the truth."

Here, that search for truth is paramount as Walsh sets out to investigate his daughter's death.  

Walsh and his wife Lila  are at home visiting with their activist friends Pablo and Mariana who have come to announce their pregnancy.  During the visit, they are all alerted to the radio by the "Radio Colonia jingle."  The "dispatch" comes "from across the river in Uruguay," which offers "all the news that's prohibited by the Argentine military goverrnment" and details an attack at a house in Buenos Aires by the Army.   In that house were five people,  members of the Montoneros, "apparently shot dead."  Of the five, the only woman in the house was known to be María Victoria Walsh,  Rodolfo's daughter.   However, one eyewitness on the scene reported that she had not been killed, but had instead been taken prisoner, alive.  The four are completely in shock at the news, but Walsh holds on to the hope offered by the observations of the eyewitness.  Doing what he can to pick up any information, he visits the scene in disguise (evidently something he did often in real life)  to try to picture what had happened there and to look for any sort of clues that may have been left behind.   Getting Vicky's mother involved, she learns nothing from official channels, but there may be someone who can help.    Not too long after the news of his daughter becomes known, Walsh is asked for a meeting by a retired military colonel who offers to try to find out what had happened to her. As it happens, although on opposite sides, some years earlier Walsh had written a story about  Colonel König who believes that Walsh had "vindicated" and "understood" him for doing "what was right." *  There is just one thing he wants in return: if ever Walsh hears that the Colonel's own wayward daughter might be in danger, he will let König know so that he can takes steps to keep her out of the hands of the military.   This may sound like an uneasy alliance, but Walsh's disagreements with his fellow Montoneros and his growing concern over their changing tactics have left him with very few people he can actually trust. 

While it may be set up as a sort of detective story, Rodolfo Walsh's Last Case is a solid piece of historical fiction, set during one of Argentina's darkest times, and the author has captured the danger, the insecurities and the uncertainties of the period  as well as the fault lines that are developing among various sections of society, including Walsh's own Montoneros.  The green Ford Falcons slowly making their way through the streets of Buenos Aires are constant reminders of state surveillance, and anyone at any time could be in danger of being picked up, carted away and tortured,  killed or disappeared by government agents.   At the same time, the novel probes the psychological effects of people caught up in this maelstrom, as the author explores the internal contradictions of the main characters, which takes this book in a direction I did not expect.   Due to the subject matter it's a difficult story to read at times, but to her credit, Drucaroff never veers off into the sentimental, nor does she load the novel down with standard detective-story fare.

Considering I chose this book completely at random, it turned out to be powerful and compelling, a novel I couldn't stop reading, and one I can certainly recommend to readers who have an interest in this time period.   


*You can read this story, "That Woman" at World Literature Today 

Friday, May 10, 2024

The Owl Cries, by Hye-Young Pyun

Arcade Publishing, 2023
originally published 2012 as Seojjok supeuro gatda
translated by Sora Kim-Russell
299 pp

(read in April)

I first came across the author when I read her novel The Hole a few years ago and I've been buying her books ever since.  That novel was absolutely chilling, not only in the telling but also in its implications once that last page had been turned.  Her latest novel, published last year is The Owl Cries, which like The Hole, involves a master of manipulation.  

It's the "off-season" for hiking in the forest where In-su Park is the current ranger, meaning that the forest is closed and no one is allowed in.   Used to turning people away, he is about to do the same to a stranger who arrives in a "nice jacket, with a dress shirt and tie," definitely "not an outfit for hiking in the woods." His boss had warned him that "radical environmentalists or ecologists" liked to show up at times, "to deliver canned sermons to the rangers."  But this man is not a hiker, nor does he fall into the environmentalist/ecologist category -- he is Ha-in Lee,  there to look for his older brother, Gyeong-in who had last spoken to him some six months earlier in a mysterious call in which Gyeong-in was sobbing instead of talking.   Their mother had heard from the brother as well, who could only say that "the owl was crying and the trees were attacking."  He is at the ranger station as a starting point,  because Gyeong-in had last been known to have worked there, prior to In-su taking the job.   Although Ha-in actually hates his abusive brother, their mother was "worried" and he felt it his "duty" to find him.   Questioning In-su Park, however, gets Ha-in nowhere, since In-su had only been in this job a short time and he knows nothing.   Ha-in makes his way to the small company town near the forest but no one there seems to know anything either, leaving him to question whether or not Gyeong-in had actually been there in the first place.    As the dustjacket notes, "when an accident and a death derail the investigation,"  the current forest ranger makes a discovery that helps him to decide that he really wants to know what happened to his predecessor, and sadly, he gets much more than he bargained for in the process.

Ha-in's search for his brother is what launches this story, which ultimately picks up the voices of the various people of this small village, each of whom for his or her own reasons have never left despite the severe bottoming out of  the economy there.  Very slowly, the truth of things begins to emerge as the reader begins to wonder what the hell is keeping all of these people stuck in this place, and what actually happened to Gyeong-in.  

I liked this book, didn't love it. What I did enjoy very much is the author's beautiful descriptions of the landscape and her portrayal of the monstrous (albeit very human, not supernatural) presence who looms over this story,  extremely skilled in the art of manipulation and the exercising of power,  preying upon others for his own purposes.  I love when authors spend time on examining psychologies and she is so very good at that here.   On the other hand, The Owl Cries didn't get tiptop reviews on goodreads or at any of the usual places, and I can sort of understand why. For one thing, whoever was in charge of the dustjacket blurb overdid it with the comparisons to "Stephen King, David Lynch, and the nightmare dystopias of Franz Kafka."  I know from reading about the author that King and Kafka are two authors whose work has been an influence on her own, but really, what is written here is overhyping the novel's content, kind of setting up false expectations.  (I keep swearing to myself that I will stop reading these  blurbs, but I do it anyway, and in some instances it is to my own detriment as a reader.)  And while I normally don't mind bleak, this book has absolutely no breaks in the darkness, and it is more than a bit on the murky side heading into the reveals so that even though answers came, for some reason the experience was less than fulfilling.  I know it's unfair to compare books, but The Hole was so bloody good that I supposed I expected more of the same here, and it was a bit of a disappointment when The Owl Cries just didn't measure up. I feel bad about saying that, but, well, there it is.  It actually killed me not to love this novel, but I can't help it. 

That's not to say someone else may not enjoy it; I'm a bit on the demanding side as a reader.  I'll try again with her Law of Lines which I haven't yet read, although it will be a while.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Confession, by Martín Kohan


Charco Press, 2023
originally published as Confesión, 2020
translated by Daniel Hahn
162 pp

(read in March)

Confession is not a long novel, coming in at less than two hundred pages, but its short length disguises the complexity within. It also has a shocker of an ending that completely rattled me for days after finishing this book.  Related in three interconnected parts, the author sets this novel timewise over three periods: before, during and after Argentina's military dictatorship that existed between 1976 and 1983.

Briefly, since to tell any more would be to utterly ruin the reading experience, the narrator of parts one and three is the grandson of a certain Mirta López, and as the novel opens, he takes the reader back to a time in 1941 when his grandmother was a young girl first becoming aware of her sexuality.  It begins with Mirta confessing to her priest at the church of San Patricio in Mercedes.  Sometimes, she says, she experiences a "powerful tremor, a kind of whirpool, only hot, in her stomach, in her whole belly, a thing kind of like a fever and a perspiration ..." that was only calmed by "squeezing her thighs together."   All of this happens whenever she sees the oldest son of the Videla family walking by her dining room window, either going to or from the train station.  He would come home from his school, arriving on Satudays and going back on Sundays, and Mirta waited for him by her window faithfully every weekend.  As her feelings toward the Videla boy intensify and grow more sexual,  the number of trips she makes to the confessional increase, but  her disclosures grow less candid than previously.   Eventually she realizes that she's confessing with "omissions," realizing that if God is "all-knowing" then He must also be all-forgiving.   Mirta goes on to marry, but not to the Videla boy, who married a year later when a lieutenant in the army at the age of 23.  Interspersed throughout this section is another entire strand dealing with the Rio de la Plata, which makes up part of the border between Uruguay and Argentina and upon the shores of which sits the city of Buenos Aires.   The significance of this second narrative strand is highlighted in the second part of this novel, which describes the actions of a group of people, all of whom have "adopted a new name" to create a sort of anonymity as they plot to "strike at the regime, and in as extreme a way as possible." Their plan had been hatched in July of 1976, with the ultimate goal of   "killing the tyrant."  The group's members work both on the streets and below them, trying to conceal what they're doing from prying eyes and from state surveillance, which is everywhere.  In part three, we are reunited with an elderly Mirta López in the present day, during a visit from her grandson at the facility where she now lives.  The author sets up this section brilliantly, as the  two play a card game called truco, the main complexity of which, as noted here, "lies in the need to deceive the opponent and avoid being deceived."   Her short-term memory isn't what it used to be, but she hasn't lost the long-term memory which during this game her grandson tries to plumb to get answers about what she knows about his father who disappeared during the military dictatorship.  Little by little, in between plays of the game, he is able to elicit information that will ultimately tie all of the pieces of this novel together into a unified and extremely painful whole.  

I am drawn to books set during the time of the military dictatorship in Argentina, and Confession left me absolutely stunned. It continued to haunt me for some time, and reflecting on it now brings back all of the feelings it produced the first time around.    Each section of this novel focuses on some aspect of secrets that are held, thoughts or deeds that are left unspoken, things that are both known and unknown -- and what happens when those make their way to the surface.   The author explores the continuing impact of the past on the present, most especially in the ways in which ordinary lives are often randomly caught up in or bound to history.    It is one of the best books I've read this year, and without hesitation I can definitely recommend it.   

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Birthday Party, by Laurent Mauvignier

Transit Books, 2023
originally published 2020 as Histoires de la nuit 
translated by  Daniel Levin Becker
439 pp

I've described this book to friends as a demanding novel due to its style, but once you get used to the way it is written, it becomes unputdownable. It's also a story that eventually began to  fry my nerves until the last page, and I have to admit that more than once I was beyond tempted to just take a peek to make sure everything came out okay.  I didn't, of course, but I really, REALLY wanted to.  

There are three houses in the small hamlet of La Bassée, two of which are occupied and one of which is empty and on the market waiting to be sold.  In one of these houses is the family Bergogne, consisting of Patrice, Marion and their daughter Ida; in the other is their older neighbor, Christine, who lives alone with her dog.  Patrice has carried on the same life he grew up with and had kept the family farm  "in the hands of Bergogne, as his father had wanted."  Marion works in a print shop in the nearby town and Christine is an artist, having left behind "the Parisian life" to able to "do some real work."   

The relationship between Marion and Patrice is somewhat strained; he is overweight, a meek and mild sort of man,  holding in check the violence that he knows is inside of him, the same that he witnessed in his father.  She is younger and more energetic, impulsive; she likes to go out dancing often with her friends,  which makes him feel as though she "prefers their company to his." He never asks about her outings, while she never volunteers anything about them or much else, really.   He does "everything in his power to be pleasant" with her, always worrying about things, especially that she could "leave on a whim" if he did say something.  It's a lonely existence for the two, relieved mainly by the presence of Ida, whom they both love very much and who stays at Christine's house after school while her parents are working.   Marion and Christine don't get along very well, with Christine making sarcastic digs at Marion which Marion answers with silence.   But it's Marion's 40th birthday, and Christine, Ida, and Patrice are preparing for a party he's giving her. While Patrice's invitation to her two work friends is a surprise that Marion knows nothing about, what transpires that evening will be completely unexpected by everyone.

The story covers two days in the lives of these people; in the first, the author allows his characters to go about their business of every day life while allowing the reader a glimpse into the tensions that exist among them,  while in the second he moves them into full-on crisis mode.    The action is slow and very controlled, with the narrative moving from character to character without wrecking the reading flow as the pressure intensifies from moment to moment.  The back blurb notes that the story is a "deft unraveling of the stories we hide from others and from ourselves," which it is in part, but I see it more as an intense character study examining lives that are already on the edge as they become pushed into a situation well beyond their control.  

Labeled as a "gripping tale of the violent irruptions of the past into the present,"  it's easy to understand why this book has been described by so many readers as a thriller -- it is definitely a nailbiter, and I have to say that the author does a fine job of leaving the answer to the key question of "why" all of this is happening until almost the very end, a factor that keeps the pages turning.  The Birthday Party may be frustrating for some people who like swift action, or who don't particularly care for long, streaming paragraphs, but as I noted earlier, once I got the reading rhythm under my belt I did not want to put it down.  I do think though, for reasons I won't get into here, that whoever decided on the title should have used the translated original, as it makes so much more sense and adds another layer of depth to the story as a whole. 

Recommended, for sure. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

the book group read, January 2024: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro


Knopf/Everyman's Library, 2012
originally published 1989
230 pp


The Remains of the Day was the reading choice for my IRL book group for January 2024.  We'd read a couple of Ishiguro's novels prior to this one, starting with Never Let Me Go and more recently, Klara and the Sun, but of the three, The Remains of the Day is one that that most fully captured my heart, although  a couple of our members found it to be on the level of snoozefest or not interesting because they couldn't relate to any of the characters.  To each his/her own and all of that, but I loved this book.  

The story is revealed via Mr. Stevens, butler at Darlington Hall where he has served faithfully for decades.  It's the 1950s and the house has had a change of ownership from the original Lord Darlington to an American millionaire by the name of Farraday, who offers Stevens time off and the use of his car while Farraday is off to America.  Stevens decides to accept the offer, having in mind a visit to the former housekeeper, a Miss Kenton (who is now Mrs. Benn), whose recent letter implies a failing marriage. Stevens, who notes that there is a problem with the staff plan, believes that if he can convince Miss Kenton to return to service at Darlington Hall, her presence will fix the problem and everything will be righted again.  At least that's what he tells himself. 

Each day of his road trip is spent recollecting his career while revealing things about himself in the process.  At the forefront of his mind are the concepts of  "dignity" and "greatness" :
"The great butlers are by great virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstances tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone.  It is, as I say, a matter of 'dignity'." 
As the trip progresses, he also spends time reflecting on his former employer, who believed that "fair play had not been done at Versailles and that it was immoral to go on punishing a nation for a war that was now over."  In 1923 Darlington had hosted an "unofficial international conference," examining ways in which "the harshest terms of the Versailles treaty could be revised."  He brought together  "a broad alliance of figures" who shared his beliefs as well as those who were concerned about the possibility of the "economic chaos" in Germany spreading worldwide. He continued his work on Germany's behalf throughout the interwar years, bringing Nazis to Darlington Hall, and at one point even ordering Stevens to dismiss two housemaids because they were Jewish, a "duty" which according to Stevens, "demanded to be carried out with dignity."  As he at some later time notes, "A butler's duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation."  Through it all, Stevens believed that "Whatever complications arose in his lordship's course over subsequent years," he had acted out of a "desire to see justice in this world."  In the postwar present, of course, Darlington had been outed as a dupe and a Nazi sympathizer, a fact reiterated to Stevens over the course of his travels; his reaction is that is is not his fault if "his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste..."  and that it is "quite illogical" for Stevens to "feel any regret or shame" on his own account.  However, he makes a number of shifts in this thinking while on his journey.   He has always taken great pride in, as noted above,  conquering his feelings when "shaken" by "external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing," but as the book comes to its conclusion,  he will end his journey with some painful realizations about his own life and exactly what price he has paid for his dutiful and faithful service over the decades. 

I love the butler metaphor, and The Remains of the Day is one of those rare books that will stay with me always, largely due to Ishiguro's ability to make Stevens so incredibly human to the point where it's impossible not to find some measure of grief for the man.    It reminds me more than a bit of his Artist of the Floating World, which is also set in a time frame of values shifts in which the main character takes a step back for reflection,  a novel of both memory and tragedy.   Both are beautifully written, but Remains of the Day edges out on top, although very slightly.    Very highly, highly recommended.

February's book group read: Pyre, by Perumal Murugan.

from Pinterest

I followed up my reading with the film from 1993.   As always, it was a bit different from the novel (which I liked better) but so very nicely done, fleshing out much of Stevens' character and offering Miss Kenton more of a presence than the novel afforded her.  When I asked my fellow book group members if they'd seen the movie, some of them had, years ago, and when I mentioned that I'd rented it for $4.00 on Amazon, I got the feeling from some of them that they felt maybe the $4.00 was not worth revisiting the novel as a film. Invisible, inner eyeroll -- their loss, not mine. I couldn't move away from my television while it was playing because it was so very, very good.   I highly recommend it as well, but read the novel first, for sure.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Prophet Song, by Paul Lynch


Oneworld, 2023
308 pp


As with more than a few books I've read recently, Prophet Song drew my attention by way of this year's Booker Prize longlist, from which it has now moved on to the shortlist.  This book was such a powerful read that it made me cry at the end, and that does not happen every day.  

With no back story to explain how it happened (and really, in my opinion, one is not needed -- the reader must accept that this is how things are for this story),  a group known as the National Alliance Party has come to power in Ireland, and under the pretext of combatting the "ongoing crisis facing the state," it has issued the Emergency Powers Act.  About a week later, the Party replaced the regular Secret Detective Unit  (which, according to a bit of research on my end has the mission to investigate "threats to State security" and to "monitor persons who pose a threat to this on both national and international fronts")  with the Garda National Services Board (GNSB), who are in control of the "maintenance of public order."  One person here refers to them as a sort of "secret police," which he notes, does not exist in Ireland, but given everything that is to come, is very likely a more realistic description.   As this story begins, it is two GNSB detectives to whom Eilish Stack opens her kitchen patio door one dark night, asking for her husband Larry, who is not home at the time.  They ask her to have him call when he returns, telling her that "it is nothing to worry about."   Eilish has no idea what this is all about, but she does have a feeling that "darkness has come into the house," something that she sees "skulking alongside her as she steps through the living room past the children." 

Larry, a teacher who is also the deputy general secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, a "senior trade unionist," makes his way to the station, where he is told that in the eyes of the GNSB, his behavior seems to them to be the "conduct of someone inciting hatred against the state, someone sowing discord and unrest."  Evidently the party is not happy about an upcoming teachers' strike, and Larry, as it turns out, is working with Ireland's teachers "to negotiate for better conditions." Reminding the GNSB detectives that he has every legal right to do so, he leaves, but it's with an understanding that the familiar ground upon which he has been walking has most certainly shifted.  Soon the Stacks begin to hear of friends  being arrested, of constitutional rights being suspended and there are rumors of civil unrest and internment camps.  Eilish believes her phone is tapped and later, Larry is suddenly disappeared and no one knows anything about his whereabouts.   Eilish is warned to stay quiet, but refuses to do so,  drawing  the wrath of the government;  little by little she finds herself becoming more isolated, especially at her work.  With Larry gone, Eilish is left in sole charge of the family; she is also taking care of her widowed father, who lives alone and is sliding into dementia.  It takes all she has sometimes just to keep herself together so that she can be strong for her four children as their normal lives crumble.  She will soon discover that Larry's disappearance is only the beginning of her nightmare;  as the government works to consolidate its hold on the people through whatever means necessary,  she and her four children find themselves caught up in horrific events as they become part of a "society that is quickly unravelling."   Yet, it is not only society which is "unravelling" here -- the most powerful moments of this novel focus on Eilish as the situation takes an immense and unspeakable toll on each member of her family, leaving her to make some extremely painful choices in order to protect them and above all, to ensure their survival.  

About plot I will say no more, and the above description doesn't begin to cover all of the twists and turns that make the reading of this novel such a powerful experience.  While what happens here is set amid a "government turning toward tyranny," to think of Prophet Song as simply another work of  "dystopian fiction" does not do this novel justice.  That turn toward tyranny has happened, and more to the point is happening somewhere at sometime in our world, a reality with which we are all familiar, as well as a point strongly highlighted when the author writes
"... the prophet sings not of  the end of the world but of what has been done and what will be done and what is being done to some but not not others, that the world is always ending over and over again in one place but not another and that the end of the world is always a local event, it comes to your country and visits your town and knocks on the door of your house and becomes to others but some distant warning, a brief report of on the news, an echo of events that has passed into folklore ..."

 Throughout the novel,  the author uses the present tense to not only communicate the ongoing changes that occur in the process, but also the very nowness of the situation, which is one factor in making this book so harrowing, and his examination of the lack of freedom of agency, as he notes here "when caught within such an enormity of forces" is another.   And while I will not divulge the ending, which actually flips the story back on the reader,  by the time I got there I was absolutely in tears, thinking not just of Eilish but of real-world mothers who have experienced some of the same terrors and who have somehow summoned the courage it must have taken to make the same kind of unbearable decisions, and quite frankly, who have come to a point at which they feel they must gamble everything  to protect their families under some of the same conditions.  

I loved this book and cannot say enough good things about it; this story will haunt me for some time and it is one I most definitely recommend.  

Sunday, September 10, 2023

A Study for Obedience, by Sarah Bernstein


Knopf Canada
193 pp


I meant to get this post done much sooner, but sadly another death has darkened our doorway so it's been a few rough weeks around here for the two of us.  But it's time to move forward.

The narrative in Study for Obedience is related by an unnamed narrator (whom we find out later is Jewish, which has more than a small amount of bearing on her story), who, as she reveals, was the youngest child in her family, and that since childhood, her role had been to provide her siblings 
"with the greatest possible succour, filling them up only so they could demand more, always more, demands to which I acceded with alacrity and discreet haste..." 
In other words, her life had been one of putting the needs of others ahead of her own, the consequences of which were her slide into a life of self denial and solitude, "pursuing silence to its ever-receding horizon."   She has no sense of belonging, and her "pursuit" of offering "the most careful consideration to the other, to treat the other as the worthiest object of contemplation" has left her "reduced, diminished..." and in her words, ceasing to exist.   It is not surprising then that when her brother calls her to come to his home because he needs someone to look after his house while he is away for long periods on business, that she accepts his request. His wife has left him, along with their children, and so for our narrator, it is a chance to live in seclusion and to "be quiet."  His house is in a "remote northern country" which happens to be where her "family's ancestors" had lived before being "dogged across borders and put into pits," and indeed was once owned by those who had led the "historic crusades" against them.  It is with her arrival that the story begins in earnest, especially once she decides to venture out into the town and discovers that the people, who seem to have no issues with her brother, want nothing at all to do with her. Perhaps, she thinks,  it is because she can't speak the local dialect. Anyway, for whatever reason, she decides to volunteer for community service by putting her name on a rota sheet of chores the locals share. Despite her misgivings afterwards about doing that, her brother sorts things out for her long distance, on condition that she does her work quietly and alone.  Not at all a problem for our narrator, but troubles begin just shortly after, when strange events alluded to at the beginning of this book start to happen, including a dog having a "phantom pregnancy," a sow who had "eradicated her piglets," and things that "were leaving one place and showing up in another." 

Just when I was convinced that we're venturing into a sort of folk horror zone here, the brother returns home not quite himself and there is a major shift that occurs which moves  Study for Obedience into different territory altogether, one which gets to the very heart of this book.  While I won't discuss what that shift is or exactly or how it comes about, suffice it to say that the novel deals with the acquisition, uses and misuses of power;  the complicity of silence and the weight of history, both personal and otherwise, are also key ideas that run throughout this novel.  And while not the horror story I thought it was going to be, this is still quite a disturbing tale that I couldn't stop thinking about for days after I'd finished reading it. 

It wasn't until the second time through that the proverbial light went on in my head.  While  Study for Obedience is short, coming in at just about 200 pages, it is most certainly not your average plot-driven novel requiring more time on my part to get through it.  Toward the end it becomes much more philosophical in nature than I had expected, making the reading a bit on the difficult side, and I'll be honest here -- it became a bit cumbersome languagewise for a while.    However, the patient reader is definitely rewarded and quite frankly, once I cottoned onto what was going on here, I was completely in awe at this author's talent, making it a book I can certainly recommend.