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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Archibald Strohalm

Harry Mulisch

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Title: Archibald Strohalm
Author: Harry Mulisch
Genre: Novel
Written: 1952
Length: 298 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Archibald Strohalm - Deutschland
  • Archibald Strohalm has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining, if a bit aimless

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ B- 8/5/2004 Andreas Platthaus
NZZ A 2/9/2004 Beatrice von Matt

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es hat noch weitere Schwächen, gerade wenn man es mit der kühlen Prosa des ein Jahrzehnt später entstandenen Steinernen Brautbetts oder auch einer vom Umfang vergleichbaren aktuellen Arbeit wie dem Roman Die Prozedur von 1999 vergleicht, der einen ähnlichen Parforceritt durch abendländisches Bildungsgut unternimmt wie archibald strohalm. Hier aber weiß Mulisch zu erzählen, während er in seinem Erstling nur zu verkünden versteht." - Andreas Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Schriftsteller sind manchmal grausam und lassen leiden. Ein solches Schriftstelleropfer ist Archibald Strohalm, die Titelfigur des prächtig masslosen Erstlingsromans von Harry Mulisch. (...) Das Buch ist mehr als genialisch. Es ist genial, auch darin, wie dem Künstler als Genie der Prozess gemacht wird. (...) Ein schneidend lustiges und ein trauriges Buch ist das, eines, das die Krise Europas um 1949 in groteske Bilder bannt." -

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 point comes early in Archibald Strohalm when the title character can no longer take it. The didactic but wildly popular Punch-and-Judy show that he sees every Saturday from his apartment window pushes him over the edge. He's a middle-class office worker, but this abomination brings the artist in him out -- again, as it turns out: Strohalm once had creative ambitions, but they fell by the wayside. He'll show them, he says, throwing down a challenge (of sorts), claiming he can do it better.
       The local puppet show is the type of performance-spectacle he can't stand. More appealing is the true-artist vision he sees in Boris Bronislaw, a free spirit who Strohalm -- in the absence of all other artistic models -- is drawn to. He can't emulate Boris, but he seems to hope some of Boris' attitude will rub off. (Some time earlier they saved a dog from drowning, and Boris thrust it upon Strohalm; little Moses is pretty much his only companion, and Strohalm perhaps expects Boris will be able to similarly thrust an answer to his creative ambitions on him.)
       Boris is a man of action; Strohalm is more interested in perception: he'd rather describe a great work than live it. It's an approach he can't quite rid himself of: indeed, when he takes the radical step of changing his life -- quitting his job, devoting himself to his counter-Punch-and-Judy project -- he tries to cut himself off from experience as much as possible, shutting himself off from his few remaining human contacts, disconnecting the telephone, etc. Experience can't be kept completely at bay: there's Strohalm's concerned sister, a boy who follows Strohalm's progress, having apparently chosen his side (against all the other kids) in the puppet show showdown, and Boris -- now soon to be a father.
       Strohalm's transformation -- which includes that from 'Archibald Strohalm' to 'archibald strohalm' -- is anything but smoothe. Among the problems: the writing really doesn't go very well. He's committed, and he tries his best, but his ambition (a plan for seven books, for one) outstrips his talents. (He takes it to heart too, and to the outside world becomes even more of a scary figure, with parents using the threat of sending their kids to Strohalm to keep them in line (apparently very effectively).)
       Archibald Strohalm is a different sort of artist-novel. The focus isn't solely on the art, either; helped especially by the solid characters -- Strohalm's family, Boris, H.W.Brits, the boy Bernard, among others -- Mulisch paints an unusual but engaging slice-of-life picture. There's too much uncertainty about what exactly he wants to accomplish with his characters, about where the focus should lie -- he seems to be making it up as he goes along, seeing what he can do with these figures he's created, adding, at whim, new scenarios to see how they might react --, but it's still largely engaging, with many entertaining bits to it.

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Archibald Strohalm: Reviews: Harry Mulisch: Other books by Harry Mulisch under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Harry Mulisch was born in 1927. One of the foremost post-war European authors he has written numerous international bestsellers. Ridiculously few of his works are available in English.

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