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Unspeakable Things: A novel by Kathleen…
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Unspeakable Things: A novel

by Kathleen Spivack

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Spivack dares to speak about the terrible things people do to one another. The telling is sometimes poetic, sometimes mythic, and often uncomfortably graphic and realistic. Hard material but well worth reading. Library book. ( )
  seeword | Aug 7, 2016 |
I requested this book from Netgalley in part because the author's name reminded me of my Calculus textbook. Where is my Calculus textbook? In Geoff's office maybe? I'm sure there are worse reasons for requesting a book.

So Unspeakable Things, a book which has a Nazi transvestite pedophile mad-scientist masturbating to a picture of Adolf Hitler. I'd put that as the byline if I were the publisher: Read a description of a Nazi transvestite pedophile mad-scientist masturbating to a picture of Adolf Hitler! Limited time only!

There are musicians in this book and, as I read, I thought of the word fantaisie, as a musical term rather than a description of something unreal with dwarves and hobbits and lines and lines of italicized poetry. A fantaisie eschews the rules of strict musical form, like Marc Chagall as a symphony. I think Unspeakable Things was written to be like a word fantasie, a novel by a painting by Marc Chagall. Time, physics, consequences, logic be damned. The Gypsy King meets with one who may be the Grand Vizier of the Freemasons in the New York Public library to plea the case for his people. This is the sort of nonsense (not derogatory, just literally outside the realm of sense) Unspeakable Things engages in.

Did I like it? I don't know.

Is it well written? I don't know.

When one exists in a fantastical space, what rules of criticism apply?

I don't know.

Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack went on sale January 26, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  reluctantm | Jul 5, 2016 |
Much has been made of the "unspeakable things" in this novel and yes, there is a doctor who abuses not only children but their mothers and all remain silent. Beyond that very clear story line, the rest of Unspeakable Things is simply too muddled to keep my attention. Musicians who believe their instruments to be alive and hold them more dear than they do their wives? A wife driven insane because? Spivack takes obliqueness to new levels. I don't need graphic depictions of horror, not at all, but I need to understand what an author is trying to say through their words and this is far too difficult in Unspeakable Things. Instead, things move at a sludge-y pace so that by 3/4 I had lost interest in whatever was being conveyed. ( )
  cathgilmore | Mar 31, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385353960, Hardcover)

A strange, haunting, exhilarating debut novel about survival and love in all its forms: about sexual awakenings and dark secrets, about European refugee intellectuals who've fled Hitler's armies with dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) "can-do, will-do" world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls--and us--to another realm of the senses. From the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others.

The setting: New York, the early 1940s, with the spectre of a red-hot Europe at war.

At the center of Kathleen Spivack's Unspeakable Things: Anna (known as the Rat), an exotic Hungarian countess with the face of an angel, beautiful eyes and a seraphic smile, with a passionate intelligence, an exquisite ugliness, and the power to enchant ... her second cousin Herbert, a former minor Austrian civil servant who believes in Esperanto and the international rights of man, a wheeler-dealer in New York, powerful in the social sphere, yet under the thumb of his wife, Adeline ... Michael, their missing homosexual son...Felix, a German pediatrician who dabbles in genetic engineering ... the Tolstoi String Quartet, four men and their instruments, who for twenty years lived as one, playing the great concert halls of Europe, for whom music is their life; escaping to New York from Bremerhaven, smuggled out on a German submarine, their money sewn into the red silk linings of their instrument cases...

And watching them all, Herbert's eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, witnessing the family's strange comings and goings, being regaled at night when most are asleep with the intoxicating, thrilling stories of their secret pasts...of lives lived in St. Petersburg ... of husbands being sent to the front and large, dangerous debts owed to the tsar of imperial Russia, and of a strange pact made in desperation between the Rat and the mystic faith healer Grigori Rasputin, their meeting night after night in Rasputin's apartments, and the spell-binding, unspeakable things done there in the name of penance and pleasure...

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 07 Jul 2015 07:16:45 -0400)

"A strange, haunting, exhilarating debut novel about survival and love in all its forms: about sexual awakenings and dark secrets, about European refugee intellectuals who've fled Hitler's armies with dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) "can-do, will-do" world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls--and us--to another realm of the senses. From the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others. The setting: New York, the early 1940s, with the spectre of a red-hot Europe at war. At the center of Kathleen Spivack's Unspeakable Things: Anna (known as the Rat), an exotic Hungarian countess with the face of an angel, beautiful eyes and a seraphic smile, with a passionate intelligence, an exquisite ugliness, and the power to enchant... her second cousin Herbert, a former minor Austrian civil servant who believes in Esperanto and the international rights of man, a wheeler-dealer in New York, powerful in the social sphere, yet under the thumb of his wife, Adeline... Michael, their missing homosexual son...Felix, a German pediatrician who dabbles in genetic engineering... the Tolstoi String Quartet, four men and their instruments, who for twenty years lived as one, playing the great concert halls of Europe, for whom music is their life; escaping to New York from Bremerhaven, smuggled out on a German submarine, their money sewn into the red silk linings of their instrument cases... And watching them all, Herbert's eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, witnessing the family's strange comings and goings, being regaled at night when most are asleep with the intoxicating, thrilling stories of their secret pasts...of lives lived in St. Petersburg... of husbands being sent to the front and large, dangerous debts owed to the tsar of imperial Russia, and of a strange pact made in desperation between the Rat and the mystic faith healer Grigori Rasputin, their meeting night after night in Rasputin's apartments, and the spell-binding, unspeakable things done there in the name of penance and pleasure.."--… (more)

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