This book was so inspiring.
I picked it up for two reasons. One, it’s by Olga Tokarczuk, who wrote the brilliant DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD. Two, I thought the title was PRIMEVAL AND OTHER TALES, and so thought it was a collection of short stories.
I wasn’t completely wrong? It’s made of short stories, vignettes, some pieces no more than flash fictions. It’s a river of time, following the people of one small Polish village through the 20th Century. It weaves between fable, drama and folklore so often that, eventually, they all flow together. Technically, I suppose, it’s an exercise in magical-realism fiction, but Tokarczuk’s unique tone, distanced and amused, redirects it more fully into the fields of the fable, and it connects interestingly with TREACLE WALKER in that respect.
This world went on for a very long time, and bored God to death. So He went down to Earth and forcibly equipped each animal He met with fingers, hands, faces, soft skin, reason and the capacity to wonder – He changed the animals into people. But the animals didn’t want to be changed into people at all, because people seemed to them as terrible as monsters. So they plotted, caught God, and drowned Him.
Being Tokarczuk, it can be killingly funny and absolutely heartbreaking between one page and the next, and the river-of-vignettes structure just weaponises her ruthless drunken weave.
Funny thing. I grew up in a village – one that wanted to be a town, full of new builds, its borders blurring with other towns in the way that they do around here. But a good deal of my childhood was spent outdoors, in fields and little patches of woodland, and those parts of my life kept surfacing in my memory while reading this book. It was the 1970s, and there were still scraps of fable clinging to the trees. The book kept reminding me of being a kid, when everything was bigger and stranger and riddled with tiny dark adventures like holes in the world you could crawl into.
It has the fatedness of mythology, the mad glory of folklore, and the fragility of the human lives locked within their borders, by the mayfly-blown hill and the black river, the trees that hide secrets and the dark scarred face of creation.
It is a seductive and gorgeous book, and it inspires great misty flights of imagination.