Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Theory on Why Critics "Disgusted" by The Kindly Ones

And now I just read Sara Nelson's take on The Kindly Ones on the she writes, "I'm not knocking those readers who found his book rewarding (for my part, I gave up in disgust). But I can't shake the feeling that his novel, like [Britney Spear's] as-yet-untitled , unwritten memoir have more in common than might at first appear. They both lean toward prurience; their publishers are hoping for (and counting on) the seemingly bottomless American appetite for scandalous attitudes and behavior. But Spears' book, at least, "is what it is" -- a celebrity bio -- and may well sell to her fans. "The Kindly Ones," on the other hand, will suffer in the marketplace for its lack of transparency and its pretentions to art."

Like Kakutani, Nelson dislikes the book, finding it "disgust"ing. But what she actually objects to is the horrors of the Holocaust that Littell describes in detail--that's what is disgusting to her, not any prurience intrinsic to the fiction.

I find her comparison, her equation of the Holocaust and Spears, to be disgusting. And what she's saying doesn't make sense. An "American appetite for scandalous attitudes and behavior"? The whole point of the Kindly Ones is that it shows what really occurred in the Holocaust, the horrors that ordinary men are capable of inflicting on others in the name of peer pressure and career ambition--but Americans' don't have a bottomless appetite for imbibing books about this. The American appetite is bottomless for Shoah stories about hope and optimism (unless a celebrity tale of doom like Spears'). Nelson is very knowledgeable about publishing trends, but she should have finished the 900-page book before feeling competent to comment on it.

1 comment:

Lahill said...

You've said it so well. As I commented on your own current review: "I have read the French version of the book and a goodly number of reviews by German and English-language critics. YOUR review hits the mark perfectly! As a Holocaust survivor (whose experiences were relatively benign, but whose German-Jewish parents and two brothers were murdered in Polish gas chambers), I have read many books (am currently writing one of my own) related to the Holocaust and frequently speak at schools and to other audiences. Jonathan Littell's work is unique in that it dunks the reader into the grisly reality of what was done and exposes the grotesque inhumanity and psycho sickness of almost an entire nation. Most other Holocaust literature is like going to the movies. When it's over, you can go out in the fresh air and leave the film behind. Littell's real-time and brutal reality stays with you. The two critics whom you critqued just don't get it. Sooorry.