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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Things in the Night

Mati Unt

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To purchase Things in the Night

Title: Things in the Night
Author: Mati Unt
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 314 pages
Original in: Estonian
Availability: Things in the Night - US
Things in the Night - UK
Things in the Night - Canada
Things in the Night - India
  • Estonian title: Öös on asju
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Eric Dickens

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Our Assessment:

B : off-beat, arresting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 29/1/2006 Ben Ehrenreich
The Times . 25/3/2006 Kate Saunders
The Village Voice . 3/3/2006 Theo Schell-Lambert

  From the Reviews:
  • "What's it all about ? That's the question, the very one Unt is trying to ask and to answer -- which isn't an easy thing if, as a matter of principle, you abjure narrative coherence not only in literature but in the world. In Joycean tribute, Unt speaks of history only to disown it." - Ben Ehrenreich, The Los Angeles Times

  • "It sounds quite incredibly dull but turns out to be unexpectedly gripping. The authorís voice is observant and delicately ironic. Unt has a splendid detachment and a rampant imagination." - Kate Saunders, The Times

  • "As often, it's a discussion of frozen cacti, a late-Soviet farce, and a chronicle of its readers' boredom -- the stories that popped up while Unt was fashioning his saga, becoming its occupiers." - Theo Schell-Lambert, The Village Voice

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:

       Things in the Night begins with a Prologue, the first sentence reaching out: "My Dear, I feel I owe you an explanation." The explanation is, mainly, for a novel-project the narrator has long planned -- "a book on electricity", he explains, one of his long-time ambitions. Appropriately enough, the next chapter is: The First Chapter of the Novel -- but that doesn't get too far: first reality intrudes, and then the whole project peters out, the writer hitting a dead end very early on. But Things in the Night itself only takes off from there, spinning various threads on.
       The planned novel was one of protest and about taking action: the central character wants to blow up a power plant. It's less about changing the world -- the act is a gesture, and one of futility at that -- than a demonstration of the character's dissatisfaction. As is, he can't even go through with it. But Things in the Night continues in this vein of protest (and, often, vain protest), a lashing out in all directions, a howl at an ugly world.
       It was written in a then still Soviet Estonia, and in the book life there is explored using a variety of approaches. At one point the narrator explains why he doesn't just describe the situation as it is:

     Because at an everyday level, life in this country is simply appalling, and if you start trying to describe the horror of it, you really have to devote yourself to the task, stack up thousands of pages of all kinds of absurdities [...] but I don't want to write about it all, and nobody would want to read it anyway. One should rather push this frustration down into the subconscious and write as Proust suggested: one of the characters doesn't close a window, doesn't wash his hands, doesn't put on a coat, doesn't say a word to introduce himself. That is a more honest and pure feeling.
       Still, some of the horrors are described, culminating in a nightmarish scenario of a power outage in sub-zero weather, a blacked-out city frozen solid. (It's all the more effective because much of the attention is focussed on what happens to a cactus-collection in these conditions, a nice example of how Unt weaves together some of the different strands of the novel.)
       Unt's preoccupations -- which include electricity and magnetism (in all their manifestations), cacti, and cannibals -- factor throughout the book, the electrical variations in particular powering much of the narrative -- a jarring contrast to the pervasive sense of decay and disintegration ("Nothing stood the test of time, including me").
       Not quite a linear narrative, the story does progress -- albeit fitfully and with a variety of digressions. There's a woman, Susie, and an antagonist of sorts, Tissen. The world around moves from dystopia to near-apocalypse, the contrast of stark and very grim reality with brief bursts of ambition and hope keeping the novel from getting too gloomy.
       An intense read -- posing a few additional hurdles for foreign readers because of the many Estonian references (a list of Estonian figures who are mentioned, and translator Eric Dickens' afterword helping a bit in that regard) -- Things in the Night is a neat, dark, creative, and unusual trip,

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Things in the Night: Reviews: Mati Unt: Other books by Mati Unt under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Estonian author Mati Unt lived 1944 to 2005.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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