Jun 27, 2010

WONDER by Hugo Claus

translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim

In his novels, Hugo Claus lays bare the haunted underbelly of twentieth-century Flanders with portaits of a shattered society and warped psyches rising to a mythic pitch. In Wonder, Victor-Denijs de Rijckel, a bewildered schoolteacher, is led to a distant village in pursuit of a mysterious woman. Tracking her to an underground political conference in a remote castle, he poses as an expert on Crabbe, a messianic Belgian fascist who disappeared in World War II. Drifting into a dense fog as his sanity begins to crumble, de Rijckel soon finds himself trapped among a handful of desperate individuals still living out the consequences of their collaboration with the Nazis decades earlier, all of whom are united by their belief that Crabbe's return is imminent. The subtle cadences of the prose and the dense emotional texture of characters lost in complex moral labyrinths make Wonder a symphony only Claus could have composed.

Fine and ambitious. . . . A work of savage satire intensely engaged with the moral and cultural life of author’s Belgium. . . . Packed with asides, allusions, and fierce juxtapositions, a style created to evoke a world sliding into chaos where contrast and contradictions are so grotesque that we can only ‘wonder’. . . . [Wonder is] a reminder of the energy and experimental verve with which so many writers of the Fifties and Sixties (Malaparte, Bernhard, Grass, Böll, Burgess, Pynchon) conjured up [a] disjointed and rapidly complicating world." —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

While fully aware that such an honorable title can only be used in great exceptions in Flemish literature, I would call Wonder a masterpiece. —Vlaamse Gids

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