Leland de la Durantaye

  • culture June 25, 2013

    My Stuggle: Book 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Why would you read a six-­volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel about a man writing a six-­volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel? The short answer is that it is breathtakingly good, and so you cannot stop yourself, and would not want to. In Book 2 of My Struggle, subtitled A Man in Love, the master theme of death remains hauntingly present, but it comes to be paired with another: birth and what precedes it.

  • culture May 04, 2012

    Traveler of the Century by Andres Neuman, trans. by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

    It begins on a moonlit night. A carriage traverses the cold German countryside. The lights of a nearby (or is it far-off?) city shimmer and shift. A turn is taken and suddenly a traveler finds himself before the city’s walls, and then within them. Uncertain figures move through the mist. The carriage comes to a stop. Our hero alights at an inn. Welcome to the nineteenth century. Enjoy your stay.

    Andrés Neman’s Traveler of the Century is a novel in five parts, and at least as many genres. There are elements of a historical novel, an epistolary novel, and a novel of ideas. Its subject is

  • culture February 11, 2011

    Public Enemies by Bernard Henri-Lévy and Michel Houellebecq

    The history of French literature is rich in villainy, calumny, and public enemies. Francois Villon was a noted thief, and his famous call to universal fraternity (“Oh my human brothers”) was composed while he awaited hanging. The Marquis de Sade was jailed by five successive regimes for everything from poisoning a prostitute to inciting political unrest (the day before the storming of the Bastille where he was held prisoner, he stood on the ramparts of the fortress screaming, “Kill all the guards!” before getting so worked up he started yelling, “Kill all the prisoners!”). Lautréamont wrote

  • Gods Willing

    They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide,” begins John Banville’s Booker Prize–winning novel, The Sea (2005). As its reader soon discovers, these departing gods are mere mortals, albeit ones who hold such sway over the narrator’s heart, mind, and life that they seem to him of a higher order. The Sea’s successor, The Infinities, also begins with gods, though this time they are no figure of speech.

    In Banville’s first fourteen novels, he showed a marked predilection for callous brilliance in his all too human narrators—from the Victor Maskell he modeled on art historian and

  • The Sound of the Furies

    Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones begins, “Oh my human brothers.” In so doing, he loses no time in posing the question that the next thousand pages seek to answer: How can men treat their human brothers with calculating and unrelenting cruelty? The speaker is a former SS officer. His direct address is essential to this enterprise, and more than one note of chilling irony can be heard therein. One such is his uncommon cultivation. Littell, a dual citizen of France and the United States, wrote his novel in French, and many of its first readers recognized the famous opening line (“Frères humains