What a struggle it has been to finish this book. I have to admit that I cheated a little. I could not conceive of just dropping the book fawgedaboudit, so I read some of the final parts by reading the first sentence of paragraphs to get a sense of where it was going, and when the first sentence grabbed by attention, I did read on a little. I tried to flip back and forth to make links between different sections of the book… Anything to try to make it make sense… From the title, some of the content and some information found on the web, it seemed to be obvious that the book was about Rudolf Hess. It is not at all obvious in a lot of the content.
Some of the confusion has to do with the changes in viewpoint; one is a narrator who is a researcher also commenting on his own work, some might be text coming supposedly written by Hess, biographical or fictional, maybe, sometimes… This novel has been described as experimental… if we mean by experimental that it does not followed an expected “flight path” through a rationally developed plot with a recognizable beginning, end and understandable plot twists…
Enquist uses a method that I have seen in other novels by him that I have read which I call the pseudo-documentary method. A narrator claims to take some of information from some existing documentation, is doing research to find such documentation or is trying to validate its content. So the book has at least two basic subplots, one being the “main” story and the other being the story of the “historian” as you might want to call the narrator. In Hess, I sometimes got confused between the two, as the text is quite “chunky” and the chunks are not always clearly attributable to a specific subplot. And that is for the main body of the novel. The novel proper is followed by a second “document” of over 30 pages called “Sommaire”, in a much smaller font, who is much more “Commentaire” than “Sommaire” and either reflects on the content of the main part of the book or seems to include notes about how the text should be further edited. For example:
Chap. 6. Nous ne discuterons pas cette partie ici.
Chap. 15. Hors du sujet, supprimer ou développer.
Be that as it may, I would rather put myself through this kind of experience than to read another Harlequin romance novel.
To return to the content of the book, the narrator states his purpose at the beginning of the book, in section 3 of Part I: “… cet essai sur la vie de Hess, sa jeunesse, sa vie d’homme et sa production littéraire pendant sa période d’emprisonnement, cet essai se propose avant tout de donner une image nette des trois gros romans dont il a laissé les manuscrits. Tout le reste est parenthèses… » However, the boundaries between the parentheses and the rest look rather blurred to me. Note to self: Read this book again some day.
I was reading the 1971 French translation by Marc de Gouvenain, reprinted in the Oeuvres Romanesques, volume 1 in the Thesaurus collection at Actes Sud.
For an excerpt in English: