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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Figure in the Distance

Otto de Kat

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Figure in the Distance

Title: The Figure in the Distance
Author: Otto de Kat
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 86 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Figure in the Distance - US
The Figure in the Distance - UK
The Figure in the Distance - Canada
Mann in der Ferne - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Man in de verte
  • Translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans

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Our Assessment:

B : spare novella of past encroaching on the present

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/11/2003 Dirk Schümer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 7/2/2004 Dorothea Dieckmann
Sunday Herald . 14/7/2002 .
Die Welt . 22/11/2003 Oliver Jahn
Die Zeit . (27/2004) Susanne Mayer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dieser Erfahrung der Gestaltlosigkeit paßt sich auch de Kats Prosa an. Erzählt wird arg vernebelt und impressionistisch, mit vagen Protagonisten und dann wieder überraschend exakten Sinneswahrnehmungen (.....) Nur der Zusammenhang will sich nicht herstellen." - Dirk Schümer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "A slim, interesting volume, The Figure In The Distance will have you raking through your old photo albums." - Sunday Herald

  • "Doch unwillkürlich mündet jedes dieser heraufgerufenen Erlebnisse in eine Erinnerung an den Vater, fügen sich Partikel zu einem immer feiner konturierten Suchbild zusammen." - Oliver Jahn, Die Welt

  • "Ein Buch, das man, gefangen in einer kostbaren Endlosschleife, immer und immer wieder lesen könnte." - Susanne Mayer, 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:

       The Figure in the Distance is a very short novella. In its few scenes the protagonist finds himself in various spots abroad -- the Algonquin hotel in New York, in Zurich, Cambridge, Budapest -- and constantly finds memories of his past (and especially of his now dead father) crowding out the present. Most of the time he stands apart from what's around him, overhearing conversations, listening but not hearing:

He really belonged nowhere. He was waiting for something, collecting impressions for later. An altogether indefinable, incomprehensible and insubstantial "later". Sometimes he thought that his world already lay behind him.
       He recognises that it's left him stuck in a kind of rut:
His passion for the past also governed his future. He would have to introduce change there; he could not continue to draw his life out in front of him and look backwards at how it had been.
       But in these pages he is still very much caught up in his passion, giving an odd, drifting feel to the narrative. In part it also reads like a writing-exercise, an attempt by the author to capture and recount specific scenes, but without knowing quite how to tie them together. Much is well done: some of the scenes -- such as the brief account of him skating over the frozen rivers with his father and brother -- are mesmerising. Others are amusing glimpses of literary life, including a meeting with an editor at The New Yorker -- "the most snobbish journal in America; no-one read it, everyone quoted it" -- who has spent a year working on an article on Flemish (as opposed to Dutch) literature.
       The Figure in the Distance can perhaps best be described as an act of mourning. The protagonist realises: "He would not be able to bring his father back, no matter how he reshaped the past", but he's not yet willing -- or, rather: able -- to give up. Memories overwhelm him and his present, and de Kat has a fine enough touch in the examples of both he uses to create an engaging if dreamy narrative (that doesn't quite add up to a story).
       There's a slightly artificial feel to the novella, the narrative too clearly conceived, but there are enough bright and clever scenes here to make it worthwhile. De Kat shows enough talent all around, but the approach he's chosen to handling this subject matter and notion doesn't entirely come off.

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The Figure in the Distance: Reviews: Otto de Kat: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Otto de Kat (actually: Jan Geurt Gaarlandt) was born in 1946.

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