When I imagined this book report, I was going to make some cracks about how Mr. du Toit once called me a wanker, way back in the old days. I thought perhaps I would make a comment about how polite the book reports are when you know that the author is better armed than you are. But a funny thing happened on the way to that facile line celebrating my own cleverness: I liked the book too much to fall into the normal patter.
The man has an admitted fetish for Thomas Hardy, and it’s easy to see the influence of the English writer and the sweep and scope of old literature in this book, and as it clocks in at 300 pages of modern English, it’s a better read.
It’s set in 1890ish Vienna and deals with a lawyer-turned-artist who has it all: a beautiful fiancee, a promising career, and all the trappings of youth and wealth. But he’s not happy because he’s an artist at heart, an existentialist one who sees beneath the veneer of bourgeous sentiments to the rotting core of humanity. So he loses the job, loses the fiancee, and pursues a detached, unreachable woman. He then ascends to a cartoonist career, gets the girl, and throws it all away.
I have a lot of sympathy for the character, but he’s a complete cad who wastes what he’s given and then wastes what he earns. He’s got a sort of intellectual hubris common of artists and intellectuals: that he and a few others can see the true meaning of the human condition, which is squalor. Whereas some of the insight into the artifice of interhuman contact is correct, ultimately it sees beyond to nothingness which doesn’t offer a much better alternative.
So I liked the book, and I am considering buying du Toit’s other book, Family Fortunes as well.