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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Swordfish

Hugo Claus

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To purchase The Swordfish

Title: The Swordfish
Author: Hugo Claus
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng.: 1996)
Length: 104 pages
Original in: Flemish
Availability: The Swordfish - US
The Swordfish - UK
The Swordfish - Canada
L'espadon - France
Der Schwertfisch - Deutschland
El pez espada - España
  • Dutch title: De zwaardvis
  • Translated by Ruth Levitt

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Our Assessment:

B : an interesting and dark small-town portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 31/3/1997 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction B- Summer/1998 Frank Kooistra
TLS B- 13/12/1996 Paul Binding

  From the Reviews:
  • "What makes the novella work despite these faults is Claus's giddy instinct for plot and pace, his openhearted enjoyment of sexual eccentricity and his nostalgia for a truly romantic countryside." - Publishers Weekly

  • "This novella (...) partly accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to show the creating and destroying power of an iconoclastic Christ in a rural Belgian town where religious zeal barely exists." - Frank Kooistra, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Of the sophistication of his art, its sureness of touch, the deftness with which it handles characters, events, symbolically charged places and objects, there can be no doubt, especially as Ruth Levitt's translation reads easily and sensitively. But one can be thoroughly dissatisfied with what Claus makes of his art. Rather than redeeming the ugliness of human conduct, his vision compounds its essential cruelty with contempt." - Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       This short novel is another of Claus' relatively dark visions. Martin Verhegge is a young, impressionable boy, and his current fixation is on Christ. Taught in secret about religion by a Miss Dora who is thrilled to impart the faith, he has taken to wandering about with a cross on his shoulders, wondering about the (religious) consequences of his actions.
       Others in the story bear different crosses. Martin's mother Sibylle, bored or distracted, begins an affair with the headmaster. A handyman works on the Verhegge roof: Richard, who years earlier had gone to prison for performing abortions and has now turned to drink. A police commissioner questions Richard, in a give and take of power and authority. Oh yes: there has also been a nasty death. But Claus isn't writing a mystery. This is a morality play.
       Claus paints his village portrait well, blending the half-dozen significant characters easily through the story. He writes with precision and he writes well -- only Headmaster Goossen's wife, Liliane, seems too simplistic to be believable. It is a heavy story Claus relates, and perhaps a broader novel would have been more successful with this subject and these themes.
       Nevertheless, the book is solid and quite good for what it sets out to do. It may not be to everyone's taste (the religious aspect may not please), but it is an intriguing short read.

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The Swordfish: Reviews: Hugo Claus: Other books by Hugo Claus under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Hugo Claus lived 1929 to 2008.

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