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The Cannibal (1949)

by John Hawkes

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242596,704 (3.3)11
No synopsis conveys the quality of this now famous novel about an hallucinated Germany in collapse after World War II. John Hawkes, in his search for a means to transcend outworn modes of fictional realism, has discovered a a highly original technique for objectifying the perennial degradation of mankind within a context of fantasy... . Nowhere has the nightmare of human terror and the deracinated sensibility been more consciously analyzed than in The Cannibal . Yet one is aware throughout that such analysis proceeds only in terms of a resolutely committed humanism." - Hayden Carruth "… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
A very challenging read, but one which was compelling rather than arduous. Having read half a dozen Hawkes, it still couldn't have prepared me for this. I think you have to be pretty well up on your modernism and experimental writing to get a clear picture of events depicted here. I found it more difficult than Faulkner but maybe more transparent than Pynchon-whom it's said to influence- in terms of plot. It depicts a number of disparate scenes which are described in intensely poetic detail which the reader then has to stitch together to make sense of a narrative set alternately in the chaotic aftermath of Post World War II Germany and earlier in World War I. The atmosphere is grim and oppressive with a picture of fragmented lives brought on by war where everyone is shown in their solitary mode whether it's a faded general, a sinister duke, a nun or an invalid. Perhaps most vividly described is the courtship and brief marriage of Stella and Ernst while events reach their dark apotheosis in the description of a riot in the local madhouse which is full of the most startling imagery. Other sections are more opaque and may require another read. My rating is based on a first read where I like to give a prospective reader a first impression rather than a definitive statement. It's quite startling in itself that Hawkes wrote this at only 23, he must have been quite the prodigy in his early years to have penned such an ambitious work. ( )
  Kevinred | Dec 29, 2021 |
This was a hard book to rate. I think I want to give it 3.5/5.
I really enjoyed the writing, and the eerie surreal nightmare atmosphere. But despite myself I found I was constantly lost as to what was happening...and sort of didn't care to try to fix it. The ending was more clear to me so I found myself really into this world for the last few chapters.
I believe this book would make for better reading upon multiple readings. Which is good, it means there are riches still to be discovered. But I don't think I will be returning for quite a while. Pity. ( )
  weberam2 | Nov 24, 2017 |
couldn't do it....too much arty bleak description. ( )
  lxydis | May 11, 2013 |
Ok, I really hated this book, but I give it five stars. Let me explain. I had to put it down a lot--sort of the equivalent of covering my eyes at the movies. Reading it did strange, bad things to my heart rate. The book is a masterpiece of oblique anxiety and despair. Events are much more unhinged than in Kafka, with whom Hawkes is sometimes compared. Disturbing and unique. ( )
  poingu | Mar 30, 2013 |
3811. The Cannibal, by John Hawkes (read 8 Oct 2003) This 1948 "novel" is no. 100 on Pieio Scaruffi's list of the 150 best novels of all time, but I found it an awful book. Hawkes has been compared to Kafka--but Kafka is understandable. This is so obscure that I could hardly tell what the book is about; the language is clear but tells no comprehensible followable story. I don't recommend it. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 11, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
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No synopsis conveys the quality of this now famous novel about an hallucinated Germany in collapse after World War II. John Hawkes, in his search for a means to transcend outworn modes of fictional realism, has discovered a a highly original technique for objectifying the perennial degradation of mankind within a context of fantasy... . Nowhere has the nightmare of human terror and the deracinated sensibility been more consciously analyzed than in The Cannibal . Yet one is aware throughout that such analysis proceeds only in terms of a resolutely committed humanism." - Hayden Carruth "

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