Thursday, March 12, 2009

From Vampyres to Nazis

USA Today has an interesting article titled "Nazi Novel Gets Few "Kindly' Reviews, But Debate Fuels Sales."

The debate is over The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. The book was first released in France in 2006 where it garnered a prestigious book award and sold 700,000 copies. It has now been released by HarperCollins in the United States. The publisher reportedly paid a million dollars for the rights.

USA Today says the book "is narrated by a remorseless former Nazi SS officer who's gay, incestuous and possibly matricidal."

Ohhh! Get me to Barnes & Noble.


In a book review posted last Wednesday here, Entertainment Weekly described The Kindly Ones this way before giving it a B-:
Littell maneuvers his character Zelig-like past a rogues' gallery of Nazis, culminating in a trip to Hitler's bunker. It's like Dante's Inferno written by Reich historian.
The publishing world has been a little schizo in reviewing the book. The New York Times said here:
Reviews in Britain, where the book was published last week, have been . . . divided. In The Times of London, Anthony Beevor deemed it “a great work of literary fiction,” while in The Sunday Times, Peter Kemp described it as “bloatedly inept.”
And then the New York Times said something that prompted this post:
For now, the publisher and booksellers are hopeful that the strong reviews — in either direction — will spur rather than deter sales.
I can only speak for myself. Positive or negative movie and book reviews rarely influence my decision to sample either a film or a book. The description of the work can prompt me one way or the other, but I mostly ignore the professional reviewer's opinion of that work. When it comes to reviews, I am far more inclined to trust a friend whose reading tastes I know than a stranger in a magazine or newspaper.

And, apparently I'm not alone. Many newspapers and periodicals have cut back on their book review sections because readers are turning more and more frequently to the blogosphere for such opinions.

At nearly 1,000 pages, The Kindly Ones is not likely to tempt me to invest the time or effort. Had the protagonist been someone more likeable, I'd be more inclined to check it out. Then I would have been interested in exploring the dichotomy of my distaste for his job and my sympathy for the character.

USA Today said:
After a negative New York Times review cited the novel as "an example of the occasional perversity of French taste," its Amazon sales ranking soared from No. 1,700 to No. 55. Karten says, "A lot of people must have wanted to read it for themselves."

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