Tonguecat Hardcover – 1 Aug 2003
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Top customer reviews
It's even difficult to compare his work with other international writers.
But Jeanette Winterson has definitely been a source of inspiration for him.
Just as a lot of classical mythology and fairytales.
When reading the book try and enjoy the atmosphere more, than trying to catch it's meaning.
I won't even try to explain to you here.
Just think of a mix between terrorism (badenmeinhoff) and ancient mythology.
Tonguecat got several major literature awards in Belgium and The Netherlands, and is definately worth the read.
But just hope that his earlier work (De kleurenvanger ... the colorcatcher) will be translated as well in english. I think that is Verhelst best work yet.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Set in what I would assume to be the relatively near future, Tonguecat occurs in an unnamed kingdom where the world has frozen over in a rapid ice age. As such, all life begins to revolve around warmth, as a practical matter, but also as an ideology or philosophy. Crime revolves around seeking warmth, and as the cold bleaches the world of hope, dreams become the preferred currency.
Thus, the setting is relatively simply described, but the plot is far more difficult. First, Verhelst has chosen to tell his story from multiple points of view. Much like Mitchell's "Ghostwritten", each section stands on its own, but the ultimate purpose, or overarching narrative thread, isn't revealed until the final chapters. Verhelst plays with themes of free will, truth and desire, and comments on our own world where perception is frequently treated as reality, even when it stands starkly at odds with the truth.
Beyond this unusual narrative arrangement, Verhelst toys with mythology and religion, to the point where I would argue that he has invented a new creation myth, or perhaps more accurately, a re-creation myth. There are literal references to Greek mythology in the form of Prometheus and the Titans, which is interesting in and of itself because unlike the relatively ordered life of the Greek gods, the titans were primeval beings, existing in a maelstrom of chaos and violence. This essence is revisited countless times as the kingdom comes unhinged in ever greater and less justifiable acts of violence which rather explicitly echo places like Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia. On top of this mythological element, there are references to the Judeo-Christian tradition of varying levels of obliqueness. From rather explicit references to the lives of the saints to strong echoes to the story of Noah, there is an element of religiosity which infuses "Tonguecat".
The characters are a fascinating blend of the high and the low; from the young king to a peasant boy who has lost his family, each has a part to play in this odd tapestry, but only one has even a rough appreciation of what is actually happening, and even then his grasp is tenuous. As such, this is a novel that will have as many interpretations as readings. To a degree, this is something of a problem as the sometimes random motivations of the characters can bog down the reader's progress as one struggles to keep up with the rather jarring shifts in narrative flow. However, this problem is ultimately surpassed by Verhelst's adventurous style and commitment to his concept, which I found myself admiring even as I was sometimes frustrated by it.
While not an easy read, "Tonguecat" has the potential to become an "important" book in the evolution of 21st century fiction. A compelling fusion of Swanwick and Bradbury, it contains all of the former's deliberate, challenging weirdness while remaining steeped in the latter's disturbing familiarity. When combined with an original narrative form and an almost psychedelic use of language, Verhelst has produced a novel that is both fascinating and original.
In some way or another, this book tells a lot about terrorism and power, but also about human strength. I loved this book.
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