Jonathan Littell: De welwillenden

Finished reading Jonathan Littell’s De welwillenden (Les Bienveillantes), the beste-selling novel about the atrocities of World War II from the perspective of a homosexual SD-member. Yes, it’s an impressive book. And more than any other book — including Vollmann’s Central Europe — (and including Primo Levi’s novels — which fall in a totally different class) this novel heightens my interest in WW II. The novel is horrifying and gripping.

But, but… (with every book I read there should be a ‘but’) … I did find that the passages about the protagonist, well, let’s call it ‘disturbed’ relationship with his twin sister, and his relation with his mother, weaken the novel’s possible impact. It is good for some delirious stretches of prose, and shocking descriptions, but it is a bit ‘cliche’ too. Although I do understand the function in the novel.

There are a few more motives which border on the cliche (the policemen that keep following the protagonist). Not that this ever really disturbed me. Just thinking of how the book could’ve been even better…

In some ways there are two books here — one is about a homosexual art-and-literature loving dandy- Nazi who is in love with his twin sister (good for some scandalous scenes). The other one is a very serious historical novel about the atrocities of WW II in Eastern Europe (much more shocking). One bridge between those two sides is provided by “Robert Brasillach” and “Leon Degrelle”, and in a sense by Theweleit’s Mannerphantasien — on which Littell wrote a long essay (that I have not read). (Of course the protagonist reads Blanchot during the war).

What I am asking myself: would I find such a novel stronger if the protagonist would have for instance a married Nazi, with a workers-background (or were all of those in the Wehrmacht?), instead of a cosmopolitan cultured person from a pretty rich family, and a troubled relation/lovelife? Surely the idea is not that all ‘executioners’ and murderers are “disturbed” psychologically, like this protagonist? I know, this is a very bad type of criticism. Yet, still, as I said, the pages about the ‘personal problems’ of Aue (the protagonist) did not really capture my attention as much as the ones about the war as such, and well, as you see, I keep on wondering about it.

It is a novel about ‘evil’ (though Littell in an interview in the FAZ says it is not). That invites comparision with Bolano’s 2666 — with its 200+ pages of descriptions of murders in Sonora.

Oh well, yes, I prefer 2666. And that preference indicates a ‘poetics’, a set of ideas of what constitutes good literature. (I wish I were able now to make an outline of that.)


en,nl,reading matter | January 14, 2009 | 0:49 | Comments Off on Jonathan Littell: De welwillenden |


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