The Hermit Paperback – 1 Mar 1983
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From the Publisher
Ionesco was one of three new playwrights who emerged in early
1950s France - changing the course of modern theatre. None of them French
by birth - the others being Samuel Beckett and Arthur Adamov - it is to the
Romanian born Ionesco that the label 'absurdist' most properly belongs. He
owes a debt to such surrealists as Roger Vitrac and to Luigi Pirandello,
but his work is based partly on the absurdities he found in language - an
experience common to those who grow up with more than one. Another feature
of his work is his ability to relate visual metaphores and exaggerated
stage pictures to enable audiences to appreciate his meanings as much
through their nerves and intuitions as through their eyes and ears. Like
Pirandello, he too exploited his dreams. In one play his hero gradually
sees all his friends turn into Rhinocerouses; in another a body grows in
the next room as a husband and wife squabble until giant feet crash through
the wall; and in still another, a perfectly planned city becomes the
habitat of a motiveless serial killer. Ionesco's plays are extremely
entertaining and funny - never less so than when they end as tragedies -
which they usually do. He differs from Beckett in his lightness of touch,
and from Adamov in his avoidance of political ideology - although some of
his plays have a strong political content. He was extremely eccentric as a
man as well as a playwright - he lived in constant fear; both of losing his
reputation once it had flourished in the late 1950s, and of death. Much of
his work is based on these and other fears. As well as his plays, we also
publish his only novel "The Hermit".
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That considered, two works in particular have always stood out to me, as they take the existential/absurdist base and tack on to it an emotional heft. These are the play Hunger and Thirst and this short novel, The Hermit. They are inextricably linked by common themes and a common scene that any reader will notice; the appearance of something that is light amongst the dark. Read both and you will immediately know what I mean.
The Hermit, however, edges out Hunger and Thirst as my favorite Ionesco work. It captures the passage of time in a way no other book ever has. It creates a dreamlike smudge from what starts as banal reality. Our narrator, probably like us, thinks that the small fortune he has inherited is a ticket to some sort of personalized utopia. He will quit his job. He will get a nicer apartment in a better part of town. There will be idle time but he will fill it with meaningful activities. We're all going to do that if we hit a lottery, right?
He moves. He gets new things. There is a girl. What happened? There is a war, maybe. Ionesco is somehow able to distill living to its barest components, to question these picturesque futures we plan while ignoring the present we inhabit. The reader is unable to know if what is taking place is actually taking place. Yet our narrator stays ridiculously obsessed with what's coming and what will happen then... When?
Plenty of books have been critical of the workplace and its doldrums. But Ionesco refracts this idea in a way, renders it shallow. Our narrator's boredom only begins in the office. He doesn't know what to do with himself anywhere, and that fact climbs and crawls over every aspect of his life even when he is `free.' Free to roam from one corner of the room to the next. Free to disengage from living and relating. Free to become as present as a passing cloud.
The Hermit is not an extension of pessimistic or nihilistic thought. It is a probing of human loneliness, and a compassionate one at that. Negativity is a part of the story insomuch as it is a part of life. Ionesco didn't want to tell you how awful things were; he assumed you already knew. He just hoped you could find a rose coming up through the cracks. And that afterward there would be a little less suffering.
A postscript that may contain a slight spoiler of a related work:
I've long thought that The Hermit had a direct influence on Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. So many similar themes are explored. The alienation from others. The obfuscation of time. The way the city plunges into a dystopia toward the end of the film. If it's true, I don't think Kaufman's vision was imitation, but rather an internalized reworking of ideas. Original in its own right, Synecdoche is one of my favorite films of the last decade.