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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Lars Gustafsson

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Title: Dekanen
Author: Lars Gustafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 305 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Der Dekan - Deutschland
  • Dekanen has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : ultimately effective if not always gripping philosophical tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 28/8/2004 Kurt Flasch
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 24/8/2004 Andreas Breitenstein
Die Welt . 11/9/2004 Jochen Schimmang
Die Zeit . 11/11/2004 Ulrich Greiner

  Review Consensus:

  Find it at least intriguing

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Welt ist längst aus den Fugen, aber jetzt stimmt es auch mit der Ober- und Unterwelt nicht mehr. Dies ist die Quintessenz des verteufelt klugen Romans von Lars Gustafsson (.....) Wenn ein hochbegabter Autor über todernste Dinge so witzig schreibt, macht selbst die Bosheit des Bösen Spaß" - Kurt Flasch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Als Krimi bleibt der Text dramaturgisch zu locker gefügt und erzählerisch diffus, dennoch besitzt er dank seinem bekenntnishaft-dokumentarischen Charakter ein schwebendes Handlungsmoment, das den Leser zu fesseln vermag. (...) Den eigentlichen Reiz des Buches aber machen wie so oft bei Gustafsson die essayistischen Einschübe aus" - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Der Dekan ist dennoch alles andere als ein düsteres Buch, weil der Erzähler Gustafsson ein hinreißender Spieler und Zauberer ist. Ein sehr ernsthafter allerdings." - Jochen Schimmang, Die Welt

  • "Auffällig aber ist die geradezu dreiste Unbekümmertheit, mit der sich Gustafsson vom Zwang eines konsistenten Zusammenhangs befreit, dergestalt, dass sich diese Notizen zum Teil wiederholen, zum Teil einander widersprechen. Trotz der nicht wenigen leuchtenden Passagen bleibt das Ganze äußerst dunkel, und man kann sich des Eindrucks nicht erwehren, dass Gustafsson zuweilen einfach nur blufft." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

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:

       Dekanen is yet another of Lars Gustafsson's Austin (Texas) semi-academic novels. There is some overlap of characters -- as well as many other echoes -- from his recent novels, The Tale of a Dog and Windy berättar, as this makes the third of a sort of Texas trilogy.
       The novel is presented as being pieced together from papers left behind by Spencer C. Spencer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin. The reader is made aware of this, and that the pieces have been collected and edited by a librarian at the local Humanities Research Center, but there is no introductory explanation of what became of Spencer. Dekanen pretty much allows him to tell his own story: it begins with him explaining that he fled from Austin, and closes with a brief editorial note explaining the circumstances of the finding and publication of the papers.
       The story is presented in short chapters. There are occasional marked gaps in the manuscript -- missing pages, sections that have been rendered illegible -- and, as is mentioned in the editorial note, it's not entirely clear what order the chapters are supposed to be in.
       Certainly, the beginning and end are clear enough: the manuscript begins with Spencer in a small boarding house at the edge of the desert, claiming to the owner to be a professor of geology, there to do some research. It ends with him getting ready to flee even further, in the only direction that's left, to essentially dissolve his existence (beyond this story that he is leaving behind).
       Spencer's tale is a convoluted one. Writing in the present, he is also concerned with what has led up to this point, obviously writing in reaction to something -- which, however, is only slowly revealed over the course of this confession. In fact, there's a lot on his mind. First and foremost is the mysterious and domineering dean in the wheelchair, who seems to take a shine to Spencer, appointing him Associate Dean of Research and Development, and engaging him in a wide variety of conversation, from discussing Spencer's own philosophical work to recounting his Viet Nam experiences (where he sustained his paralysing injury). In addition there are numerous family-issues Spencer raises: his father's odd choices and failures, for example, as well as a competitive cousin, among others. And there are women -- or one, Mary Elizabeth, in particular.
       Spencer's papers seem to be an attempt to record: what matters. In the life of the individual, but also also far more generally, as in what makes us human. There's a hastiness, digressiveness, and disorder in the pages which is meant to mirror his uncertainty -- as indeed does his treatment of the manuscript as whole: the editor notes that Spencer likely removed the missing pages (in some sort of last second editorial intervention), as well as the fact that the manuscript was left under the spare tire in his pick-up, hardly an ideal storage place.
       Where Dekanen really succeeds is in how the presentation of the material and the events makes it a philosophical work. There is philosophical speculation, too, but it's not the words that best convey Gustafsson's message: it is the disorderly, non-linear, ambiguous, even inconsistent presentation, the uncertain stories and lives that are presented here. The opening words are: "Time passes", but even that banal observation turns out not to be so simple: in its looping and reliving of the past, Dekanen constantly reminds readers that time's inexorable steady movement forward is only one aspect of our perception of it. The closing words set the final exclamation point, the editor noting that after the fact it's not always clear what the case was, an obvious echo of the opening of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, "The world is everything that is the case". It is that world that is, ultimately, too much for Spencer, the many cases too much of a burden.
       As with so many of Gustafsson's novels, Dekanen is anecdote- and episode-filled, and, as usual, many of these are well done and interesting. It's surprisingly action-packed: Dekanen is a sort of murder-mystery, among much else, and the question of what becomes of us is literally presented over and over with disappearing (and occasionally reappearing) characters throughout. Spencer's own philosophical-academic work -- on Condillac, for example, -- plays a role too, but Gustafsson prefers to work by example, rather than losing his characters in airy philosophical speculation.
       It all makes for an interesting if somewhat messy book, not always as gripping as one might like. Still: worthwhile.

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Dekanen: Reviews: Lars Gustafsson: Other books by Lars Gustafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Lars Gustafsson lived 1936 to 2016.

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