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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My First Suicide

Jerzy Pilch

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To purchase My First Suicide

Title: My First Suicide
Author: Jerzy Pilch
Genre: Stories
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: My First Suicide - US
My First Suicide - UK
My First Suicide - Canada
  • Polish title: Moje pierwsze samobójstwo
  • Translated by David Frick

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine stories, though mix of glumness and humor can be wearing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Gazeta Wyborcza . 13/11/2006 Andrzej Franaszek
Publishers Weekly . 19/3/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mojego pierwszego samobójstwa to przede wszystkim duch rozpaczy i samotności. Samotności pisarza przedkładającego słowa nad ludzi, samotności dojrzałego mężczyzny, który jakoś wyosobnił się, wybrał gorszą ścieżkę. Przebywa teraz w samotności nieledwie absolutnej, która go udręcza, ale bez której nie potrafi już żyć. Książkę Pilcha można też przeczytać jako historię człowieka, który zamieszkuje w opowieści, który ze wspomnień i wyobrażeń konstruuje świat, bo innego świata nie ma." - Andrzej Franaszek, Gazeta Wyborcza

  • "Pilch masterfully negotiates sentiment with a clear-eyed vision of his autobiographical narrator’s shortcomings and disappointments, suggesting a Dubliners set in Krakow" - Publishers Weekly

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:

       My First Suicide is a collection of ten stories that don't quite fit together into a novel; told in the first person, it adds up more to a collection of episodes-in-a-life, with little effort to bridge or connect them. Beyond death, that is. There's lots of death-talk.
       At the beginning of the title story the narrator admits that: "I have been attempting to kill myself for exactly four hundred seventy-nine months, and, on account of various bits of misfortune, I haven't been having any luck", and if not quite so grim and fatal-istic as this might suggest (it takes a bit more than luck to manage not to kill yourself if you've been trying for forty years, after all; clearly there's still quite a bit of life in him), there is certainly a lot of death in this air.
       This is a personal collection. Yes, there are other people's stories here, too -- but the narrator admits he isn't keen on them, as he has more than his fill of his own:

I had realized that there was no way, not even until the end of my life, that I would manage to write down what I myself remember.
       The collection begins strongly, with an amusing tale that fortunately isn't death-focussed, instead dealing with one of Pilch's other great passions, love (alcohol, of course, being his other obsession). 'The Most Beautiful Woman in the World' offers the mix of humor, self-deprecating observation, and passion that Pilch does best: he's completely besotted, but also recognizes the faults in his grand scenario. The woman he pursues here is, indeed, staggeringly beautiful, but, yes, that is pretty much all she has going for her; otherwise, she's: "rather a clod". He reveals -- and practically revels in -- how low he's willing to sink because of that beauty: "I even said OK to her literary hierarchies: she adored Wharton and Coelho".
       Hopeless passion -- "Beauty, as perfect as geometry and as permeable as air" -- is arguably a dark subject matter too, but it doesn't really compare to the obsession with death. Death here is omnipresent -- not immediate and always upon the characters, but right there in the shadows (think forty years of suicide attempts ...). Grandma Pech (presumably not just coincidentally the German for 'bad luck') may have lived to ninety, but, typically, she long: "outwitted death by her eternal readiness for it", going to bed every night saying she was ready to leave the world. And, of course, eventually a lot of the characters do die, many of old age, some before their time.
       In some cases life just takes its more or less natural course, but there are spectacular falls here, too: 'The Spirit of Miraculous Discoveries' describes local boy Janek Nikandy, whose sheer promise seems infinite and from whom everything is expected but who soon sputters and falls, terribly (and further and further ...); obviously, too , by the end he's good and dead.
       The luckless narrator himself doesn't so much fall as seem in a perpetual state of slowly sputtering decline. Now "a guy past fifty, who is afflicted with mental decomposition", he nevertheless still gives it a go. Sure, he goes to book signings "less and less frequently" -- because he can't stand the ghastly, empty nights in hotels -- but love and lust can still draw him out, or he'll allow himself to get waylaid by others' stories. For all his professing disinterest and lassitude, he still seems to have his eyes and ears wide open, and he captures a lot; he also digresses constantly, and beautifully. Much here takes the form of looking back (like on that first suicide attempt, at age twelve ...), but much also continues to the present.
       Some of these stories are exceptionally well told. Pilch has a fine style and tone, just right for some of his accounts. But the separate stories are a lot to take in one go; without the cohesiveness of a novel-narrative -- while still being so similar in voice and outlook -- there's almost too much competition here between the individual tales; they stand up better on their own than together.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 May 2012

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My First Suicide: Reviews: Jerzy Pilch: Other books by Jerzy Pilch under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Jerzy Pilch was born in 1952.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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