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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Devil Comes to Town

Paolo Maurensig

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To purchase A Devil Comes to Town

Title: A Devil Comes to Town
Author: Paolo Maurensig
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 113 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: A Devil Comes to Town - US
A Devil Comes to Town - UK
A Devil Comes to Town - Canada
Der Teufel in der Schublade - Deutschland
Il diavolo nel cassetto - Italia
Un asunto del diablo - España
  • Italian title: Il diavolo nel cassetto
  • Translated by Anne Milano Appel

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Our Assessment:

B : familiar kind of story, but interestingly twisted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 14/2/2019 .
Sydney Morning Herald . 19/7/2019 Desmond O'Grady

  From the Reviews:
  • "This nested narrative is an entertaining exploration of the manifold powers -- creative, confessional, corrupting -- of fiction." - Publishers Weekly

  • "It wouldn't be a Maurensig if the entertaining fable did not have dark seams." - Desmond O'Grady, Sydney Morning Herald

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:

       A Devil Comes to Town comes in several layers, first-person accounts nested in one another. It begins with an author who, after his first great success -- as Maurensig had with his The Lüneburg Variation --, begins receiving manuscripts from hopeful authors looking for advice and help in publishing them. In the course of disposing of them he comes across a manuscript entitled 'The Devil in the Drawer' (which is also the original Italian title of the novel) -- an anonymous submission, without a return address or any indication of who wrote it.
       'The Devil in the Drawer' is also narrated in the first person; for convenience sake, the reader of the manuscript calls the author/narrator 'Friedrich' ("a name that I feel suggests a pale, blondish, aspiring writer rambling through the valley's of Switzerland") and then presents a mix of longer passages from Friedrich's manuscript, as well as summary of some of the rest. The gist is that in September 1991 Friedrich travelled to the Swiss town of Küsnacht, by Lake Zurich -- where Carl Gustav Jung lived and died, he notes (and Thomas Mann lived in the 1930s -- which he doesn't mention, though there are other references to that German master). There he met a priest, Father Cornelius, who warns him about the devil -- and literature, "a dangerous endeavor". Specifically, he warns that: "Without knowing it, the writer can become a formidable egregore" -- a term Friedrich is not familiar with, and which Father Cornelius describes as: "a chain reaction caused by univocal thinking" (a not unJungian concept ...) -- including as a sort of mass delusion.
       Then Father Cornelius relates a tale of his own encounter with the devil, presented verbatim here and making up the bulk of the novel; the author and Friedrich's remarks were essentially preamble and introduction, and Friedrich and the author tie things up again in a brief coda, but the heart of the novel is Father Cornelius' long story.
       It takes place in another Swiss town, which Father Cornelius does not want to identify by name -- giving it instead: "a predictable name: I'd say Dichterstube ("poet's repose") suits it perfectly". It is a town of about a thousand souls, a summer tourist spot but otherwise sleepy town whose one claim to fame or source of pride is that the greatest of German writers, Goethe, spent a night there. Father Cornelius was sent as vicar to the town, to assist the aging local priest, but found the locals a hard nut to crack. Only when he discovered the town's secret, was he able to make some inroads:

I discovered that everyone in Dichterstube wrote, or at least that there wasn't a single family that did not count an aspiring writer in its midst. Incredible ! Everyone was a poet, short-story writer, historian, or novelist ... There was no other place in the world with such a high number of would-be writers. And they all submitted their manuscripts to the large publishing houses, which invariably rejected them and returned them to the sender.
       Father Cornelius is not the only one who uses literature as a way to connect with the locals in this 'village of literati', as the devil himself comes to town, claiming to be a publisher from Lucerne, Bernhard Fuchs, promising the locals the moon and settling in nicely in this lair to oversee things. He also supports a new prize for local writers -- a Goethe prize, of course -- and Father Cornelius is tasked with vetting the entries --giving him new insight into the locals:
It was strange that people who were so reserved and reticent, even toward their confessor, were willing to disclose their secrets provided there was a chance they would see them in print. A great many skeletons came out of closets, were taken by the hand and made to perform in a shambling danse macabre.
       The quality of the literary works that are submitted remains low, complicating the question of who could possibly be deserving of the prize. But then there are also other problems, like where the promised money for the prize is .....
       The Faustian bargain between the supposed publisher and the overeager townspeople goes predictably south, with Father Cornelius -- the only one to recognize the supposed publisher for what he is from the first -- playing a significant role in the process (though of course also crushing the locals' dreams along the way ...).
       With a nice backdrop of rabid foxes, effectively deployed, A Devil Comes to Town is a decent little tale of a town getting carried away, of the struggle between good and evil and the temptations and costs of success. Identities and personal secrets also figure prominently, as it turns out that Bernhard Fuchs isn't the only one who may not be quite who he appears or claims to be, as Father Cornelius' own background is also shadowier (or darker ...) than suspected (despite the occasional hint along the way).
       The framing devices adds a nice additional issue, with the question of who a story belongs to brought to the fore by the layers of anonymity to the texts -- "Who is actually the legitimate owner of a 'manuscript found in a bottle' ?" the author asks at the conclusion, explaining his deliberations as to whether or not to make public this doubly-found tale.
       If not quite your usual deal-with-the-devil tale, A Devil Comes to Town presents a decent variation on the theme, enjoyably literarily-focused, as everyone (including Father Cornelius, Friedrich, and the author) has a story to tell. Perhaps overambitious in the mix it tries to squeeze into and from its tales, as well as the use of several author-voices, A Devil Comes to Town veers a bit towards a muddle and doesn't quite come off as neatly as one might hope. Still, it's a decently unsettling novel, and both love- and warning-letter to and about literature, complete with nice little allusions and homages (down to those Maria Mancini cigars).

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 May 2019

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A Devil Comes to Town: Reviews: Other books by Paolo Maurensig under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Paolo Maurensig was born in 1943.

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© 2019-2022 the complete review

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