“Just writing a book to know who is the killer is wasting paper and time,” said Man Booker International Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk in an interview with The Guardian, which immediately made me circumspect about diving into her newly-translated 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to crime fiction; it’s my desert island genre of choice.
Although murder — a string of them in an isolated Polish village on the Czech border — drives the plot forward, this isn’t a whodunit or a mystery in the traditional sense. The denouement, when it comes, revealing the perpetrator behind the crimes, doesn’t stun, although it’s apt. It feels right, the preceding pages building towards a destination savvy readers already know, but will find satisfaction in reaching nonetheless. But Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is an accomplishment not because of its flirtations with noir, but for its meditation on environmental and ecological issues; specifically hunting, both for sport and meat.
The ageing, ailing and lonely Janina Duszejko spends her days using her Ephemerides to map the stars; translating William Blake; and looking after the homes of the city-dwellers who only show up to the village in the summer. She used to have her two beloved dogs for company, and their disappearance has left a gaping hole in her heart and soul. The death of her cantankerous neighbour upends her placid lifestyle, and propels her headfirst into the first of what will become multiple police investigations. Her theory that the local wildlife is retaliating against the local hunters who prey upon them falls on deaf years; and when not simply ignored, is laughed at. But Duszejko is adamant; the unbalance in power between nature and human is being addressed. Her absolute certainly adds an element of magical realism to proceedings.
This is a book that forces you to slow down and think. It’s a great book for any reader looking for something different from their crime reading experience; lyrical, poetic and haunting. Not necessarily an easy undertaking, but a worthy one.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia