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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Mighty Angel

Jerzy Pilch

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To purchase The Mighty Angel

Title: The Mighty Angel
Author: Jerzy Pilch
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: The Mighty Angel - US
The Mighty Angel - UK
The Mighty Angel - Canada
Sous l'aile d'un ange - France
Zum starken Engel - Deutschland
Sotto l'ala dell'angelo forte - Italia
Casa del Ángel Fuerte - España
  • Polish title: Pod mocnym aniołem
  • Translated by Bill Johnston

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sure-handed paean to the irresistible

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 5/2/2003 Stefanie Peter
The Harvard Crimson . 2/4/2009 Will Fletcher
Die Welt . 28/9/2002 Mathias Schnitzler

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pilchs Roman liest sich denn auch streckenweise wie ein Remake von Wenedikt Jerofejews Kultpoem über die berühmte Eisenbahnfahrt des volltrunkenen Wenitschka/Wenja von Moskau nach Petuschki" - Stefanie Peter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Pilch unflinchingly confronts the emotional reality of alcoholism and suggests a more sobering reality beyond sobriety. (...) Pilch’s memoir-like style blends black comedy, amateur psychology, and homage to Homeric epithet" - Will Fletcher, The Harvard Crimson

  • "Das Prickelndste an diesem Roman wurde übersehen. Trinker wie Dichter, lautet seine Essenz, sind krankhafte Lügner. Sie sehen die Realität durch die Brille der Einbildungskraft. Sprachlich brillant, mit drastischen Schilderungen der Folgen des Alkoholismus sowie unter weitgehendem Verzicht auf Klischees vom trinkenden Dichter, parallelisiert Pilch den Akt des Trinkens und des Schreibens" - Mathias Schnitzler, Die Welt

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:

       Alcoholism has become a way of life for many of the characters in The Mighty Angel, including its narrator. Much of the novel takes place on the "alco ward", but the fact that they temporarily have to try and dry out doesn't make much of a difference: the shadow of their all-overwhelming dependency hangs over everything even there. Jerzy has already been sent there eighteen times, but obviously to little effect, his stays little more than a hiccough in his alcohol-consumed life. Indeed, he obviously doesn't take any lessons he might have learned very far, as every time he is released he has the same routine: he'd head straight for his local pub, 'The Mighty Angel', for four double-shots, then buy a bottle of vodka before returning home.
       The writer Jerzy has his routine down pat at the alco ward, too, occupying himself there -- and earning decent money and benefits -- by writing the various other patients' accounts for the "emotional journals" they are required to keep, making him: "the secretary of their minds".
       So alcohol is not the only thing that consumes him. He admits:

I was ruled by my tongue. I was ruled by women. I was ruled by alcohol.
       Tearing him in a number of different directions.
       Love might help him redeem himself, but after some failed marriages one can understand why he's a bit wary about that. Language, on the other hand ...:
Language is my second -- what am I saying, second -- language is my first addiction.
       And in the alco ward he at least gets to indulge it fully -- even as he is frustrated by the need to temper his own natural style (he is: "incapable under any circumstances of forgoing a well-turned phrase") in rendering believable versions of the other alcoholics' tales. Indeed, he comes to worry that:
the unending labor of reproducing the crude style of the alcos was having an impact on my own exquisite turn of phrase.
       Much of the novel consists of Jerzy's accounts of his fellow inmates, both in reproductions of some of the accounts he has penned as well as in his more general own descriptions. Either way, it's all presented through his prism, an agreeable style that is amusingly at odds with much of what is recounted. The narrator neither romanticizes nor demonizes these characters' (and his own) weakness: it's just who they all are. And if quite a few wind up in even sorrier states (including dead), so be it. At this stage, for most of them -- and despite the best (or, more often, clueless) efforts by the treatment-staff -- it's hard to be much more than philosophical.
       Yet The Mighty Angel is also a tale of redemption. All of Jerzy's reflection -- including the sums he does, of what he's consumed (the equivalent of three thousand six hundred bottles of vodka in the past twenty years) and what it's cost, in cash as well as the human toll --, and all these other sorry tales he's rewritten, do make him question his mindless devotion to drinking. Yet it isn't some logical step he takes, or a determined show of willpower that finally moves him. Instead, it is the similarly ineffable -- for that is also what drink is to him --, surely found especially in his first addiction -- language, speech, and writing -- that leads him to break free of his routine.
        Jerzy does, in a sense, write himself free. He's aware of his own struggle, which mirrors Pilch's own. He writes about the other patients' accounts:
Between myself and my characters there are at times few differences.
       He knows his could ultimately wind up being exactly a story like theirs, and so he notes -- Pilch's presence in the text now barely hidden any longer --:
Between myself and myself there are also only a few subtle distinctions
       Indeed, it's hard not to see this work as a thinly-veiled confessional account.
       One chapter of The Mighty Angel is devoted to short quotes, most from famous drinking authors -- Hans Fallada, Malcolm Lowry, Charles Bukowski, Venedikt Erofeev -- as well as some other pertinent passages. Pilch's own work isn't any hymn to alcoholism, but it is a paean -- he even calls it an "epic poem" at one point -- to that which can not be resisted. And while most of his fellow alcos have nothing else they can no longer resist, the narrator of The Mighty Angel still can't resist the siren call of language itself -- which makes for a strangely styled but interesting take.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 April 2009

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The Mighty Angel: Reviews: Jerzy Pilch: Other books by Jerzy Pilch under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Jerzy Pilch was born in 1952.

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