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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lair

Norman Manea

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To purchase The Lair

Title: The Lair
Author: Norman Manea
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 323 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: The Lair - US
The Lair - UK
The Lair - Canada
The Lair - India
La tanière - France
Il rifugio magico - Italia
  • Romanian title: Vizuina
  • Translated by Oana Sânziana Marian

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing novel of exile

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 30/3/2011 François Busnel
Le Figaro . 31/3/2011 Bruno Corty
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/6/2012 Steven Heighton
TLS . 31/8/2012 Costica Bradatan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tous les ingrédients de la vie et de la politique est-européennes sont ici réunis par un romancier démiurge. Norman Manea convoque les ombres du passé et gratte à la paille de fer. Il interroge le fascisme mais aussi la démocratie consumériste, à travers le regard de personnages embarqués dans cette nef des fous qui ne jettera jamais l'ancre." - François Busnel, L'Express

  • "Porté par une belle traduction, le roman exigeant de Norman Manea est de ceux qui marquent les esprits, font réfléchir et dispensent du plaisir tout à la fois." - Bruno Corty, Le Figaro

  • "The Lair is conspicuously, self-consciously and at times infuriatingly complex and challenging. (...) The plot is subordinate, a slender trellis designed to support Maneaís densely interlacing digressions, riffs and reveries on everything from utopian idealism and the meaning of 9/11 to death metal music and the art of the obituary. A conventional creative writing teacher would nail him for failing to dramatize enough or to mold fully distinct characters, and while the rap isnít really fair -- Manea seems indifferent to the prescriptions of contemporary realism -- itís still worth broaching, in part to give a sense of how deeply The Lair differs from most of todayís English-language fiction." - Steven Heighton, The New York Times Book Review

  • "A novelist of ideas and big philosophical issues, Manea does not always give his characters enough flesh and blood. They have a tendency to lecture, to the point of forgetting the role they are supposed to play in the novel's plot. Be that as it may, Manea's use of language is sophisticated, self-aware and self-controlled. (...) The Lair also illustrates another facet of Manea's work: its ongoing chronicle of his own survival. " - Costica Bradatan, Times Literary Supplement

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 Lair is a novel of exile, set both before and after the fall of Ceauşescu in Romania -- i.e. it is a story of more than just escape from a communist regime. It's characters wind up in America: Augustin Gora, the first to take advantage of the opportunity to leave Romania, then still under Communist rule; Lu, his former wife, who would not accompany him at that first opportunity; Peter Gaşpar, Lu's cousin and then lover; there is also an first-person narrator, but he remains well-hidden for much of the novel, the I only stepping coming forth in the narrative. An enormous presence -- or shadow -- is that of an earlier émigré, the 'Old Man' Cosmin Dima, éminence grise of the Romanian intellectual community in exile -- a very thinly-veiled stand-in for Mircea Eliade, complete with Eliade's unsavory fascist background.
       Dima is very supportive of Gora when Gora is establishing himself in the US, but he and others struggle with the inherent contradictions of Dima's example. As Peter Gaşpar puts it:

     Yes, the great scholar is worthy of admiration. The work, yes ! Without the biography.
       Gora becomes well- or at least comfortably established in his quiet academic position, while Gaşpar struggles at first to find his foothold in the US. He, too, lands in academia -- but still sees himself as:
     The refugee. The oddball. The weirdo. He connects, but he doesn't connect. Communicates, but doesn't communicate.
       And he also realizes that:
I am the product of my country. This I want to say. I circle around certain ambiguities, I cultivate them, through all kinds of copouts that are nothing but copouts. I avoid the essential.
       This could apply to Gora just as easily. Indeed, the entire novel revels in the ambiguities of personal and public history, the Romanian past (and, to some extent, present, in which too little has changed) inescapable and continuing to weigh them down.
       In a narrative that circles back over certain events and episodes repeatedly history is shown to be inescapable. With personal histories (most notably Old Man Dima's) that leave many questions open, death threats that range from the seemingly trivial -- a postcard-warning that turns out not to be quite what it seems (but into which a lot is read) -- to the very real (one character from their past was indeed assassinated), and with Gaşpar himself apparently perishing in the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center -- but with no certainty as to whether he actually did -- Manea does not allow for any definitive picture; his characters and their world remain in a shroud of ambiguity.
       This sense of ungrounded uncertainty is also symptomatic of their failure to adapt to the US: as Gaşpar is reminded, "Here, we're in the country of simplifications" -- but Gora and Gaşpar remain knotted in complications. They ask themselves about the attempted renewal of exile, of re-creating themselves:
Was it an imposture ? We're the same and we're different, we rid ourselves of ourselves, we change without changing.
       In the end, one character is described as: "Liberated from the Baroque anguish of maladjustment to the real", but for the bulk of The Lair most of the characters struggle in that anguish. It's an interesting approach to exile, and especially the experience of Romanian intellectuals. Manea does not make it easy for the reader, with a simple, smooth arc of a story; instead, the narrative loops like turbulence. It is successful, in its way, but it's not an easy story to work through -- and it does feel a bit limited.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 April 2012

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The Lair: Reviews: Norman Manea: Other books by Norman Manea under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Norman Manea was born in 1936. He teaches at Bard.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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