Networks of various types abound in this complex, densely plotted and intricately symbolic novel. The body of Kryštof Warjak, whose death represents the book’s inciting incident, is found ‘attached to the soil by an unusual sort of filament, like a spiderweb’. Train networks transport victim and killer. Characters sense the networks within their own bodies, and, most importantly, plants are in and of themselves networks – but also form a greater web, knitted into human lives.
It is here that Šindelka pulls his masterstroke: he creates a disturbing legend about a parasitic flower that grows on human flesh, imbedding itself in its host’s system, but holding within in it a deadly poison that can kill at any moment.
Kryštof is a plant-hunter and is smuggling the last remaining specimen of this rare bloom to a wealthy and dangerous collector. But the flower has a tragic and very human history. It is said to have been created by a bereaved Japanese lord, who’s grief-laden soul transferred itself into the plant on his suicide. Thus the flower holds within it a murderous power – but also the tragedy of human existence.
It is this tragedy that Aberrant explores. Nature and humanity is fecund – the novel is replete with rich descriptions of landscapes, vegetation and the human body. But there is an aberration within this system – a sadness and an evil, which takes advantage of this fecundity to spread itself throughout nature, and throughout human life. Like the giant hogweed that covers the field in which the dead Kryštof Warjak is found, that tragedy is a human creation, but is now beyond human control.
A chilling an intellectually stimulating tale, told through beautiful prose and elegant narrative poetry – lovingly translated by Nathan Fields – Aberrant draws you deep into its tight knit web, and makes you realise that you have probably tasted the poison that in some way or another pervades all our lives.
Reviewed by West Camel
Written by Marek Šindelka
Translated by Nathan Fields with artwork by Petr Nikl
Published by Twisted Spoon Press (2017)
West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working for new press Orenda Books. His debut novel, Attend, is out now. www.westcamel.net.
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