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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Marek Šindelka

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To purchase Aberrant

Title: Aberrant
Author: Marek Šindelka
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 219 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Aberrant - US
Aberrant - UK
Aberrant - Canada
  • Czech title: Chyba
  • Translated by Nathan Fields

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely twisted tale; fine writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2017 J.David Osborne

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t reads like a series of synesthetic impressions linked together by moments of brief character work. Along the edges of the narrative are suggestions of structural daring and multilayered mystery, but none of it is fleshed out or explored. (...) Šindelka’s writing is truly something to behold, and that’s why the book is worth reading. The copy does its best to sell the book as a thriller, or a magical bizarro fable, but what makes it work are the long passages in which the author describes train stations, flooded cities, greenhouses, and the plants therein. (...) As a gripping thriller, it is a complete failure." - J. David Osborne, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Aberrant is a wide-ranging novel that begins with the death of one of the main characters, Kryštof Warjak, and then elements from the police investigation into it -- the lead investigator, Antonín Brom, pulled off the case, but some of the documents dealing with the case reproduced here. It is a mystifying death, but turns out to be one that is obviously -- yet bafflingly -- connected to several other gruesome murders. So Aberrant is a sort of murder mystery -- yet the crime-puzzler aspect is only part of the story, and it hardly unfolds or reads like your usual mystery. Among other things, then, Aberrant is also a (fairly well-grounded) science fiction tale, and a story of obsessions.
       The three parts of the novel are titled: 'Kryštof', 'Andrei', and 'The Flower' -- the three main characters, as it were. Kryštof and Andrei were childhood friends, though they drifted apart. Both fell in love with the beautiful Nina when they were young; it was Andrei who married her, but they named their daughter Kristýna. When Kryštof comes to visit them, after a long time apart, Nina, neglected by Andrei, is drawn to him; tragedy -- in a novel full of it -- ensues.
       While the novel opens with Kryštof's death, it does not (only) proceed from there, but rather also circles back, slowly filling in the story of how he got there. The unusual nature of his death -- he's found in a what seems to be a toxic circle of complete lifelessness, which even insects remain at the periphery of, while the autopsy reveals something that is then hardly surprising but certainly abnormal -- can be traced to his work trafficking in exotic, rare plants.
       Šindelka nicely leads Kryštof to and describes this niche-field of the exotic-plant-obsessed, which offers remunerative employment, where a few weeks traveling in remote jungles earn Kryštof enough to live for the rest of the year. Plant-life (and what turns out to be a little more than just plant-life ...) is used effectively throughout the novel, from the opening scene which also introduces Kryštof's fear of the giant hogweed plant (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a remarkable weed whose sap is phototoxic, meaning it is more or less harmless unless exposed to ultraviolet light (like sunlight ...), in which case it causes damaging blisters and scars. Indeed, some of these real-life examples of plant-life Šindelka weaves into his story seem only slightly less strange (or indeed unlikely) than the fantastical one at the heart of it.
       The other brutal deaths that occur are apparently linked, and lead back to Kryštof's last venture, stealing a plant from Japan. Kryštof did get the plant -- but ultimately at too high a cost. Andrei -- with a death sentence of his own hanging over him -- eventually also entangles himself in these strange occurrences.
       Aberrant sprials towards its resolution (and explanations), in a narrative that repeatedly veers off in unexpected directions; a great deal is, essentially backstory -- including far back, all the way to the childhoods of Kryštof and Andrei. Impressively, Šindelka sustains the narrative tension, and the story -- largely by balancing evocative description with just enough (often slightly strange and mysterious) action. He also doesn't overwhelm the story where he could -- there's a large-scale flood for example, deluging even much of Prague, but it doesn't sweep the whole story with it. Meanwhile, the mysterious plant at the heart of the novel, and its nature, are guardedly revealed over the course of the story, so that it is always a sort of significant and dark presence, yet whose full import -- its true essence, and their consequences -- is only fully understood near the end.
       The very frequent switching back and forth, in perspective, time, and style, can irritate at times (though Šindelka does manage to maintain a certain flow to it all), and not all the pieces are successful, but it's a neat story that's consistently intriguing. And for such a dark tale -- there is a lot of tragedy here, and a lot of death -- it is surprisingly far from simply being bleak. Though somewhat like the effects of hogweed-sap, the bright spots practically blister too .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 September 2017

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Aberrant: Reviews: Marek Šindelka: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Marek Šindelka was born in 1984.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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