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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Folly

by
Ivan Vladislavić


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Folly



Title: The Folly
Author: Ivan Vladislavić
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993
Length: 179 pages
Availability: The Folly - US
The Folly - UK
The Folly - Canada
The Folly - India
Folie - France
Der Plan des Baumeisters - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : beautifully surreal

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 20/10/2015 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 29/12/2015 Jonathan Gibbs
Publishers Weekly . 22/6/2015 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "The degree to which this novel is allegorical is, very cleverly, a matter of how much the reader wishes it to be. The world it depicts is quotidian to the point of banality, and the prose exhibits an almost crazed attention to detail (.....) I see the book as a playful-sinister examination of the potentially dangerous false realities of literature, and even of language itself." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Vladislavić, too, is a weaver of spells, and I read his book at once captivated and cautious as to how it would cap off its vaunting fantasy. There is an allegory for apartheid here, if you want it, but equally it’s a satire on -- and a love letter to – human gullibility, and, as such, quite strange, and as special as it is strange." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "(H)eady, lively, and darkly surreal (.....) Mr. Malgasís inability to see that his new friendís house is a fiction -- or, conversely, our inability to see that itís real -- gives the story a dizzying effect." - Publishers Weekly

  Quotes:
  • "An immaculately-written allegory or parable (though neither word is quite right) about two unlikely neighbours, itís a clever and elegant book that lodges in the mind like a dart." - Damon Glagut, New Indian Express (25/11/2014)

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:

       The lot next to the home of Mr and Mrs Malgas in The Folly is vacant, an empty acre or so overgrown land, but the novel opens with it being claimed, by a man named Nieuwenhuizen -- apparently he inherited it. Like a homesteader Nieuwenhuizen moves onto the land and begins living there, and slowly makes it his own, repurposing and refashioning the debris he finds littered there and improvising as need be. He has his own distinct style and approach -- to almost everything --, one that Mrs Maglas, who keeps a wary eye on the goings-on, finds irrtating and worrisome, but that fascinates Mr Malgas.
       That Mr Malgas sees rather more -- potential and otherwise -- than the Mrs is clear from early on, when he already raves:

He's going to put up a mansion here, if I know him, a magnificent place. Raise the tone of the neighborhood, not to mention the property values.
       Of course, Mr Malgas doesn't really know Nieuwenhuizen well -- or almost at all, and Nieuwenhuizen remains a man with practically no history or attachments. Indeed, for the length of the novel he almost never even moves from his new property, and it is only much later that he goes just so far as to reveal his first name to Malgas.
       Nieuwenhuizen -- whose name already tantalizingly suggests a 'new house' (Mrs Malgas can't believe it: "'That's impossible,' she said. 'It's too much of a coincidence'") -- does indeed have plans for a sort of house. Eager Mr Malgas volunteers his services, imagining great things to come -- even if he isn't quite clear what Nieuwenhuizen has in mind. As it turns out, 'imagining' and 'in mind' would seem to be the operative concepts, in any case, as the realization of any structure is slow in coming.
       Nieuwenhuizen counsels patience:
You can't rush the building of a new house. You've got to get the whole thing clear in the mind's eye.
       Indeed, most of the work that Nieuwenhuizen does seems to be going on in his mind's eye -- though there is some groundwork, too. First, in any case, comes 'the grid', a careful mapping out of the parcel of land. Only then comes 'the plan'.
       Mr Malgas, willingly insinuates himself into a helper role, happy to go along with whatever Nieuwenhuizen has in mind (and happy to neglect his actual work at the hardware store in following this next-door dream and dreamer) -- even if he isn't sure what exactly he is getting himself into. As he tells Nieuwenhuizen:
Plans aren't my thing, I admit, I'm a supplier at heart
       It initially proves far beyond him: when Nieuwenhuizen unveils the plan he doesn't get it:
To call it a plan was to grant it a semblance of purpose and order it evidently did not deserve. It was a shambles. It was so unremittingly drunken and disorderly that tears started from Malgas's eyes.
       Yet he quickly gets caught up in Nieuwenhuizen's castle-in-the-sky, he quickly gets it -- and loses himself thoroughly, joyously in Nieuwenhuizen's fantasy come true (even if it only comes true on a very particular level).
       All the while the Mrs stands outside, looking on disapprovingly. From the first she was sure: "It can only bring trouble ... and insects" -- and she's not wrong. She finds it hard to look away, but she also can't step in: her four walls are her castle and prison, and she only has a front-row seat to what is happening next door -- "Mrs, despite her best intentions, found that she could nothing but observe".
       She takes some solace in her interpretation of what has happened to her husband, and to next door:
He's flipped his lid, he's seeing things. But I suppose we should count our blessings. At least it's all in his mind; the real thing would be intolerable.
       But what is it, exactly, that has been constructed ? To Mr Malgas it is, for a while, wonderfully real; if ultimately undone, it is only because Nieuwenhuizen chooses to move on. Mr Malgas had admitted to Nieuwenhuizen early on: "I am an empty vessel waiting to be filled", and he proved very receptive to Nieuwenhuizen and his inscrutable doings.
       The Folly is a novel of delusions -- self- and very real ones, too. It is also a work of fiction -- yet another delusion, in which the reader is complicit. Vladislaviċ reminds readers of as much, too -- that we too are Malagass (often equally eagerly surrendering to the words on the page), including in a wonderful late scene where there is a:
a cloud of dust and typography, and Malgas could no more marshal them than you or I. The cloud boiled and spilled out fists and feet, caps and hats, asterisks and ampersands, dollar signs and percentages, sharps and flats, >, <, and =, Malgas submitted.
       The Folly veers into the surreal, but Vladislaviċ does so artfully. Nieuwenhuizen's approach -- to clearing and reclaiming the land, to imposing his order on it -- is bizarre but plausible, and from there it's only a small step to his grand vision. And that Mr Malgas could convince himself of it is plausible too, and for all its seeming absurdity -- on quite a grand scale by the end -- it nevertheless remains surprisingly grounded and, in it's own slightly twisted way, convincing.
       Vladislaviċ's very precise expression throughout reminds again and again that this is also a mind's-eye-creation; the layers of meaning, invention, reference, and misunderstanding suggesting a foundation as elaborate (and often confounding) as Nieuwenhuizen's carefully marked out plan -- right down to Mrs Malgas' reassertion, with Shakespearean echo and all, of life as it had been before:
     "Words, words, words," said Mrs, misunderstanding him. "Let's not pretend at all. It doesn't suit us. Let's just get on with our lives."
       There's more to the text too: contemporary South African reality is not immediate here -- the two adjoining plots of land are a world apart, practically unto themselves, not just the center but almost the entirety of the world of the novel -- but scenes do filter in, via television, for example. Yet without pounding any message home too directly Vladislaviċ allows the reader -- Mr Malgas-like -- to make as much of the text as s/he can or wants (or needs) to.
       A very fine piece of writing, and a very good work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 October 2015

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Links:

The Folly: Reviews: Ivan Vladislaviċ: Other books by Ivan Vladislaviċ under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South African author Ivan Vladislaviċ was born in 1957.

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© 2015 the complete review

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