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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Thanks

by
Pablo Katchadjian


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Thanks



Title: Thanks
Author: Pablo Katchadjian
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Thanks - US
Gracias - US
Thanks - UK
Thanks - Canada
Merci - France
Gracias - España
  • Spanish title: Gracias
  • Translated by Priscilla Posada

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Our Assessment:

B : wickedly dark surreal tale, if ultimately a bit too hazy

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Thanks is an island-tale, beginning with the narrator's arrival and closing with him sailing away from it. The locale is no idyll, but rather like out of some black fairy tale, a superficial pleasantness to (some of) the goings-on barely covering a pervasive, bottomless darkness, the narrator's whole time there an experience that is, more than anything else, surreal, tinged with a constant sense of menace, sometimes faint, sometimes terrifyingly real.
       The narrator's account reduces almost to a listing of his experiences; he can never quite shake a lingering sense of befuddlement, never quite figure out the reasons behind much that happens to and around him. He can only think and look and act so far ahead -- a step or two at most; any more than that and circumstances have changed so drastically that he finds everything around him -- including any expectations -- has been upended. The scene near the opening, when he arrives, is typical:

The port seemed both unknown and familiar to me; I wanted to ask the man next to me for the island's name, but he appeared to have fainted
       The narrator arrives in a cage; like most of the others with him, he is to be sold off as a slave. He is purchased by a a man named Anibal, who takes him to his home -- a castle. The narrator is treated more like a guest than a slave, given a comfortable room; after a good night's rest, Anibal takes him out shooting (to call the random gun-firing they engage in 'hunting' would be quite an exaggeration).
       Anibal seems more host than slave-master -- but he does make demands of his new acquisition. The narrator does what he's asked; he never spells out what the assigned tasks involve, but it is something horrible: even just the first time: "what he was asking me was upsetting", and it leaves him, when he has completed the task, with a: "smell of humiliation and slavery".
       It gets worse, too; another time the narrator:
spent the entire night in a huge storehouse doing work more repulsive and humiliating than what anyone could imagine; something totally indescribable, impossible to understand if one doesn't see it, and impossible to feel if one doesn't live it.
       Ninive, a servant at the castle that the narrator is attracted to, and someone who apparently suffers at the hands of Anibal, at one point observes: "Everything is so unstable", and indeed this is a world that is not so much uncertain as inexplicable. The narrator doesn't really question much, but feels at sea about almost everything around him; even taking action -- trying to go to Ninive's room, for example -- he finds confusion and disorder. The baffling disconnect between cause and effect, the almost randomness to what happens, manifests itself in the amusing-trivial, too, such as when Anibal repeatedly invites the narrator to dinner, claims the entire chicken-dish for himself, and orders pasta for his guest -- and then:
When he finished, he stood up and left without saying goodbye. I remained alone at the table, waiting for the past, which never arrived.
       The narrator eventually rebels, and leads what amounts to a rebellion of the slaves; the narrator is anointed king, in Anibal's place. Yet Anibal's horrible legacy can not be wiped away: the narrator orders the three storehouses, the sites of the unspeakable horror he had to deal with, burnt and blown up, but no conflagration can extinguish the horror, which rises into the air, covering everything in black ash which spreads: "across the gardens, streams, forests ...".
       The narrator, Ninive, and a few others flee, an arduous, horrible journey -- though eventually most of them escape the ash (and the ash-worms ...). They reach another castle, where the narrator is again installed as king -- and again has to deal with the clean-up of horrors perpetrated here.
       Roots offer hallucinogenic escape -- or yet more of the abyss: the narrator finds himself drawn into a 'black hole' when he samples them -- another confused and dark reality that he finds it hard to escape from.
       The narrator knows only one prayer: "Please, God, help me overcome incongruities", but the world of Thanks is all incongruities; a character eventually acknowledges: "This is going badly", but really, it's been a mess all along. It's an interesting dark vision and journey, and the narrator's puzzled near-monotone an appropriate guide into the groaning-ever-louder abyss -- all the more effective for the many seeming little respites and moments of calm comfort (though it all goes south in the end).
       Thanks is quite engaging, with just the right air of mystery in describing some of the horrors while leaving much unsaid, but ultimately it doesn't quite seem to know where to go. In rounding off the story as he does, Katchadjian leaves behind the island and the island-adventure almost as a mere mysterious malign episode -- a conclusion that feels almost too easy for a story that has repeatedly pulled and teased and plunged the reader into a great haze of pure darkness.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 December 2018

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Links:

Thanks: Reviews: Other books by Pablo Katchadjian under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Pablo Katchadjian was born in 1977.

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© 2018 the complete review

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