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Booker International Longlist 2021 – Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy

23. Andrzej Tichý - Wretchedness 2

Booker International Longlist Book 8 rated by panellists Tracy, Rachel & Jen

Translated by Nichola Smalley from Swedish
Published by And Other Stories

Details from the Official Booker Site: From sprawling housing projects to underground clubs and squat parties, Wretchedness is a blistering trip through the underbelly of Europe’s cities. Powered by a furious, unpredictable beat, this is a paean to brotherhood, to those who didn’t make it however hard they fought, and a visceral indictment of the poverty which took them.

About the Author

Andrzej Tichy was born in Prague to a Polish mother and a Czech father. He has lived in Sweden since 1981. The author of five novels, a short story collection and a wide range of nonfiction and criticism, Tichy is widely recognized as one of the most important novelists of his generation. His latest novel Eländet (Wretchedness) is a postpolitical foray into modern day Swedish society. It was shortlisted for the August Prize 2016, Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize.

Tracy’s Thoughts: What was that?? A cellist is the narrator, who is asked for change by a junkie, and this sends him into a spiral of memories that feel like a bad acid trip.

There is supposed to be some commentary in here about refugees and immigrants and how they are treated. However, it’s trying so hard to be weird and symbolic, it comes across as a teenager’s attempt to rewrite William Burroughs.

Others have said this is a great book, so I may have missed something here, but I just couldn’t appreciate this one.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 1/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: ¾
Overall enjoyment: 0.5/2
Total: 8.5/20

Rachel’s Thoughts: A cellist waits for colleagues on a canal footpath. A junkie asks for change, triggering thoughts of where he’s come from, the friends he’s lost, the life he (was) expected to lead. It’s disorientating, stream-of-consciousness writing – very often I have no idea who’s talking, and yet it’s beautifully written.

This is my first surprise of the longlist – despite expectations, I loved it, found it challenging, it kept me engaged and I really want to buy the soundtrack. Also, yes to that ending!

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Jen’s Thoughts: Wretchedness, as the title might suggest, is not a pleasant read. It captures poverty, drug abuse, hopelessness, violence, and racism. I felt a heaviness that is hard to describe when I read this book. It’s writing in stream-of-consciousness style which heightens the sensory experience of feeling disoriented and confused. Memories and time flow back and forth and it’s often hard to keep track of any linear progression of plot. I don’t enjoy reading stream of conscious literature and I found it even harder to read in this book. There are no paragraphs and sentences bleed into each other, leaving the reader dizzy.

The protagonist is a Swedish cellist who is headed to a concert with two of his musician friends. In the primary timeline they discuss music theory. When they encounter a homeless addict, the protagonist is prompted to think about his own childhood and his experience with poverty, violence, racism, and rampant drug use. While the primary timeline is this trip to the concert, the majority of the story takes place in whirlwind of times and locations. Some of the novel reminded me of trainspotting. Readers who enjoy stream of consciousness will probably enjoy this more than I did. The way the author weaves in music and mimics music rhythms in the writing is pretty clever and probably would be much more enjoyable reading in the original Swedish. In terms of character development, I didn’t really get a good sense of the characters. This novel was more about the environment and circumstances in an urban, poor neighborhood than it was about in-depth character development. It’s a sad book and reading it, one can easily find themselves lost in the head of the protagonist, which isn’t a pleasant place to be.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20

At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
Wretchedness 13.5/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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