Wednesday 21 February 2018

Fiction: The Fox Was Ever The Hunter by Herta Muller

Portobello, €15.50

The Fox Was Ever The Hunter by Herta Muller
The Fox Was Ever The Hunter by Herta Muller

Hilary A White

Long before winning the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, Romanian-born author Herta Muller (below) was something of an awards magnet, clocking up nearly one accolade a year since 1981, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1998 for The Land of Green Plums.

Like that novel, The Fox Was Ever The Hunter deals with four characters living under the grim Communist Ceausescu regime that tore Romania asunder until the dictator and his wife were executed by firing squad in 1989.

The misery of that time - endured by Muller until she fled in 1987 - permeates her densely packed, woozy poetics, here translated by Philip Boehm.

And like Muller herself once was, Adina is a schoolteacher looking on at a nation ravaged by hunger - there are mentions of worms in apples - while a latent dread drips from blade-like poplars and "screaming faces" on the breadline. When she keeps coming home to her apartment to find parts of her fox pelt missing, she knows that she is being watched by the secret police.

Her friend Clara, meanwhile, works in a factory and embarks on a romantic affair with a lawyer called Pavel, who may or may not be all that he appears.

A beautiful nightmare of a novel, and a sensory reading experience to be filed alongside Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds.

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