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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Queen of the Night

Marc Behm

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To purchase The Queen of the Night

Title: The Queen of the Night
Author: Marc Behm
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977
Length: 255 pages
Availability: The Queen of the Night - US
The Queen of the Night - UK
The Queen of the Night - Canada
La reine de la nuit - France
La reina de la noche - España

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Our Assessment:

B : Nazi picaresque, and as queasy-making as one would expect

See our review for fuller assessment.


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 first suggestions that The Queen of the Night is meant to be over-the-top come with its opening theatrical and operatic references: narrator Edmonde Sigelinde Kerrl was given her names by a Wagner-worshiping mother and a Shakespeare-translating actor father, while the title comes from Mozart's The Magic Flute, which she sees performed many times and about which she continues to wonder:

Is the Queen of the Night a villainess or isn't she ? Is she a she-demon and a witch, or is she "die sternflammende Königin" ? The work is so fantastically confusing and contradictory that it's impossible to unravel.
       The Queen of the Night and its protagonist are meant to be similarly confounding. Edmonde is a quick-thinking and impulsive young woman, forced to find her way in the world alone after losing her mother when she was ten and her father when she was fifteen, and the paths she takes are dark and twisted ones -- arguably because of the impossible times she lives in.
       Born in 1915, she falls in with -- or comes to rely on -- the wrong crowd, just as they're ascendant; her Nazi party registration number is an early -days one in the mid four digits (5365) ..... Given the times, she soon finds herself aligned with, and protected by, the powers that be -- and for quite a while that certainly eases her paths. She gets around, and pretty far, on the back of that, but the times and circumstances force her to make a lot of compromises along the way. Not that she has that much difficulty with those: for all her easy-going ways, she's also very determined and ruthless, and has no difficulty committing coldest blooded murder when the need arises (as it repeatedly does).
       The novel has a splendid one-line opening paragraph:
     I hate furniture and clowns.
       It doesn't set the stage so much, but it does give a sense of the tone, and Edmonde's attitude, a carefree forthrightness here and in her explanations, and then in the whole sordid, horrible story she relates.
       The Queen of the Night is a quick-paced picaresque -- though with some epic ambition, nicely suggested by Behm with Edmonde's fascination with the text-accompanying text, Hervey Allen's massive novel, Anthony Adverse (a book the Kirkus review suggests resembles James Joyce intermingled with Dumas), that she constantly returns to but never quite manages to make her way through (until the bitter end).
       Edmonde is already exchanging (still quite tame) sexual favors for cigarettes at age eleven, and sex is very prominent in the story: she likes to indulge (though her preference is strictly same-sex), while many of the men around her also are strongly motivated by sexual urges (most of which are also not of the most traditional sorts ...). There's quite a bit of ecstatic sex -- Edmonde really loses herself in it -- but rather little that might be considered healthy sex, as evidenced also by how secret it generally has to be kept (most obviously but hardly only when Edmonde and Eva Braun get it on together).
       The first major Nazi figure Edmonde meets is Ernst Röhm, the homosexual chief of staff of the Sturmabteilung -- dedicated to the cause, but with his own ideas about the battles to be waged. Edmonde is in the thick of things when the Hitler decides to purge Röhm but, quick witted, escapes becoming collateral damage -- not for the last time.
       A member of the SS, Edmonde takes on a variety of positions, and as Germany goes to war finds herself posted to Paris and then the eastern front. She does her jobs, but she's hardly a dedicated ideologue; mostly, she just wants to have a good time, and tries to arrange things to her convenience; if people get hurt along the way, she's not really bothered all too much.
       Just as the war doesn't go well for Germany, Edmonde's situation becomes bleaker, too. She winds up resorting to a marriage of convenience to the newly appointed homosexual commander of the camp at Gotha -- a true hell but one that's less dangerous to her than the alternatives. But her life there, as the war drags on and Germany's defeat looms larger -- leading to more desperation --, is straight out of Hieronymus Bosch, vividly, horribly described by Behm. And eventually, of course, the war is lost.
       All along the way, Edmonde is haunted by the ghost of her father, and then later by a dog as well: Behm is big on the theatrical, with motifs and themes reverberating throughout the story (to reasonably good effect). So also the question of the 'Queen of the Night', or the epic novel Edmonde keeps returning to (even as she reads others in the meantime).
       A lot of The Queen of the Night is a kind of psycho-sexual romp through 1930s and 40s Germany -- but history constantly encroaches. Edmonde herself is not Nazi depravity personified, but she's certainly not the sympathetic Nazi, either. She's certainly put in impossible circumstances -- but morality rarely figure into her decisions as to how to act and react. One can sympathize with her about the horrible men -- Nazi leaders, for the most part -- she has to deal with, but that is nowhere near enough to absolve her. And she's quite indifferent to the suffering she is, directly and indirectly, responsible for; her concern is always only for herself (with a soft spot for the women she has feelings for, but one that she doesn't allow interfere with her survival instincts). Her evil is not the ideologically-motivated or the gratuitous evil of the Nazis she deals with; it is almost entirely personal and self-serving.
       Asked at one point what her job is, she can coyly play at merely being a cog, even as she knows better:
     "We're the SS's economics and administrative section."
     "Naturally. But what do you really do ?"
     "I don't know." I finished my coffee. "Hideous things probably. But I'm only a clerk."
       The Queen of the Night is very similar to Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, from the excess of kinky, depraved sex to the narrator's interaction with prominent real-life Nazis to the witnessing of significant events of the times. Behm's take is more direct and satirical, but he too flounders some with the material: what happens is so terrible that Edmonde's almost casual (and so self-centered) approach jars. The story often seems rushed -- and one can almost imagine it's because of Behm wanting to get done with it .....
       The theatricality of it all -- played up well by Behm, right down to the final curtain -- is sufficient to exert a certain fascination, of what will he do with it and how far will he take things (very far, it turns out), but overall The Queen of the Night remains a predominantly queasy-making reading experience. It's an interesting attempt to present Nazi-horror, but it's a bit wide of the ugly mark.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2018

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The Queen of the Night: Reviews: Marc Behm: Other books by Marc Behm under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author and screenwriter Marc Behm lived 1925 to 2007.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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