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the Complete Review
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Per Olov Enquist

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To purchase Downfall

Title: Downfall
Author: Per Olov Enquist
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985 (Eng. 1987)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Downfall - US
Downfall - UK
L'Ange déchu - France
  • A Love Story
  • Swedish title: Nedstörtad ängel
  • Translated by Anna Paterson

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Our Assessment:

B : odd, experimental book, with some powerful parts

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The unnamed narrator in Downfall relates a number of stories. There are his friends, K and his wife. K is a doctor at a psychiatric clinic. He and his wife are divorced -- but, as the narrator says: "By the way, it is doubtful if one can ever become divorced." This idea of an eternal, unseverable union figures prominently throughout the book, in a variety of forms.
       The young daughter of K and his wife was murdered; the boy that did it is also a presence in much of the book.
       Another story that haunts the narrator is that of real-life figure Pasqual Pinon, a freak who had a second head growing out of his forehead. His actually story is related, and the narrator also imagines more to it -- including a life for the second head. "I dream ever more frequently about Pinon", the narrator finds. "He dominates more and more."
       Another strand is Bertolt Brecht's sometime collaborator, Ruth Berlau. In his dreams the narrator always finds Berlau also bringing along "the hatbox with the head of Brecht in it." It is only a deathmask -- but it is still Brecht. Like the other pairs in the novel: "They could never rid themselves of each other."
       This odd, often monstrous pairing, shown in a variety of forms, is the dominant image of the novel. Reality and dreams are given practically equal weight, each suggesting a means of regarding and interpreting the other. The narrator is looking for answers. Early on he says: "I suppose it is true that I understand nothing." But he tries -- "But if one does not try, if one did not try, where would one be ?"
       It is a story of a falling angel, a coming to terms with one's own life and past. Evocative but splintered, perhaps trying to do too much in too little space, Downfall is an interesting and occasionally stirring novella. But it is a curious and somewhat stilted work, not quite as assured as most of Enquist's work.

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Pasqual Pinon: Per Olov Enquist: Other books by Per Olov Enquist under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Scandinavian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Per Olov Enquist was born in 1934.

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