A less-than-kindly greeting for a prized French novel
It may have won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in France, but "The Kindly Ones," Jonathan Littell's novel about World War II and the Holocaust, is not receiving a particularly friendly reception in the United States.
There have been those who've praised it to the skies (including Tina Brown and author Michael Korda), but in the New York Times Michiko Kakutani called it, "willfully sensationalistic and deliberately repellent ... a pointless compilation of atrocities and anti-Semitic remarks, pointlessly combined with a gross collection of sexual fantasies."
She further added that, "That such a novel should win two of France's top literary prizes is not only an example of the occasional perversity of French taste, but also a measure of how drastically literary attitudes toward the Holocaust have changed in the last few decades."
The book is the fictional version of the memoir of a ruthless former Nazi SS officer. His story includes incest, sodomy, and murder.
In France the book was published in 2006 under the title "Les Bienviellantes" and was hailed as a French version of "War and Peace." Littell is a dual American/French citizen who lives in Barcelona and writes in French.
In the Wall Street Journal, former Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson Nelson (who says that she couldn't bring herself to finish "The Kindly Ones," which is almost 1,000 pages long) perhaps dealt Littell the unkindest cut of all by comparing his book to the yet-unwritten memoir of Britney Spears.
Both Littell's novel and Spears's projected book, she says, "lean toward prurience; their publishers are hoping for (and counting on) the seemingly bottomless American appetite for scandalous attitudes and behavior."
But Spears's book, she says, "at least, 'is what it is' – a celebrity bio – and may well sell to her fans. 'The Kindly Ones,' on the other hand, will suffer in the marketplace for its lack of transparency and its pretentions to art."