4 July 2009

Julian Barnes, The Porcupine, 1992

A fictional satire of the fall of Communism in an unnamed East European country, loosely based on the trial of former Bulgarian Communist president Todor Zhivkov. Bulgarians are suspicious of Westerners writing about their country but The Porcupine turned out to be a bestseller there. It also became a minor footnote to Communist Bulgarian history when Zhivkov himself requested a copy to read while under house arrest; also, his prosecutor Krasimir Zhekov later identified with the persona of the book’s fictional prosecutor Peter Solinsky when he later introduced himself to Barnes, declaring “I am Peter Solinsky.” This is a memorably good a book. It’s relentlessly cynical, angry, funny and sharply observed, and cleverly blurs any easy distinctions the reader can make between what constitutes either good or bad ideological politics. Barnes puts across a vital, incipient energy very easily in the first few pages and then carries it through right to the aftermath. A very well crafted novel indeed, recommended unreservedly if only because it’s vastly more entertaining that its subject matter might suggest.  PY


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