fri 14/06/2024

Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead review - on vengeful nature | reviews, news & interviews

Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead review - on vengeful nature

Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead review - on vengeful nature

Polish murder mystery with a Blakeian twist

Olga Tokarczuk© Lucasz Giza

In a small town on the Polish-Czech border where the mobile signal wanders between countries’ operators and only three inhabitants stick it out through the winter, animals are wreaking a terrible revenge. The bodies of murdered men, united in their penchant for hunting, have turned up in the forest, violently dead and rotting. Deer prints surround one corpse, beetles swarm another’s face and torso.

Foxes escaped from an illegal fur farm need little motive to exact summary justice on their former jailor.

The authorities of the wider conurbation provoke distrust  kickbacks and dirty dealings are rife. Immorality stalks the landscape and  according to our guide and narrator, the vegetarian ex-dog owner Mrs. Duszejko  who has a more pronounced sense of justice than animals? Into the vacuum of law and moral principle they come, angry and righteously disrupting the world of men. “We have a view of the world, but Animals have a sense of the world, do you see?” she explains from behind a wolf mask to a fellow guest at a fancy dress party.

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Antonia Lloyd-JonesIt’s an idiosyncratic theory from an idiosyncratic woman. But then nature is just as surprising and Mrs Duszejko is steeped deep in the lore of poet William Blake. Through her eyes, the behaviour of fieldfares which “soar into the air, then in perfect unison defecate on their oppressor,” and the phenomenon of rings appearing in the snow round tree trunks (“Are trees warm?”) are emanations of a pure natural world pushing its way into the polluted slurry created by mankind  her perception is cleansed.

Deemed a “crazy” old woman by police and townspeople, she is nevertheless cherished by her young students ("children have always attracted me more than adults, for I too am a little infantile") and cast of companions who are as unexpected and fitting to her friendship as her nicknames for them (she prefers “epithets that come to mind of their own accord the first time I see the Person”). There’s Oddball her retired accountant neighbour with a rage for order and a nasty police son named Black Coat; Dizzy, who translates Blake and has infinite allergies; Good News who runs the second hand clothes store as if it were a community café and has not a single hair on her body; and Boros, the inscrutable entomologist who turns up grubbing in tree trunks one day. Among these companions she finds affinity as easily as with the “refined and well-bred” dog fox she calls Consul who leads her to discover the second body.

But then, such deaths are to be expected. Mrs. Duszejko reads and formulates horoscopes. All of the future is written in the stars and people are merely their tools. There is a greater pattern to this world than mere experience and as a retired civil engineer, her pleasure at following a concept into reality matches mathematically onto astrology  from “figures a specific image arose, then a drawing, and then a design”. Day to day she is troubled by petty nuisances and her “Ailments” but a domestic scene contains “the entire Cosmos” if understood rightly. The atoms of her grey hair “preserve the origins of life, of the cosmic Catastrophe that gave the world its beginning”.

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead opens with befuddlement  Oddball wakes Mrs. Duszejko from valerian-induced slumber to help investigate the death of their hated third neighbour Big Foot - and struck with eccentricity the local Dentist conducts alfresco tooth pulling having brought the surgery chair onto the brilliant grass next to the quarry. But there’s nothing confusing about the sense of justice  cosmic, animal and human  that permeates the story. None of the murdered men are exactly cherished by their neighbours, though they all share formal positions of authority. As an advocate that “Anger is the source of all wisdom, for Anger has the power to exceed any limits” Mrs. Duszejko confesses of the murders  “To tell the truth I liked the concept of evil people who eliminate each other, in a chain”.


Immorality stalks the landscape and – according to our guide and narrator, the vegetarian Mrs. Duszejko – who has a more pronounced sense of justice than animals?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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