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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mocking Desire

Drago Jancar

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To purchase Mocking Desire

Title: Mocking Desire
Author: Drago Jancar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 267 pages
Original in: Slovene
Availability: Mocking Desire - US
Mocking Desire - UK
Mocking Desire - Canada
Luzifers Lächeln - Deutschland
  • Slovene title: Posmehljivo pozelenje
  • Translated from the Slovene by Michael Biggins
  • From the Northwestern University Press series, Writings from an Unbound Europe

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Our Assessment:

B : solid novel of modern displacement

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Spring/1999 Gordon McAlpine
Slavic and E.Europ. Journal . Fall/2000 Helga Glusic
World Lit. Today A Spring/1999 Radmila J. Gorup

  Review Consensus:

  Very positive.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hat keeps the novel fresh is the presence of what amounts to an additional central "character, " whose influence is more profound than any other's; that character is Melancholy itself, which changes its appearance from time to time, but hovers nonetheless about every scene in Gradnik's adventure." - Gordon McAlpine, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "This superb exploration of human experience elucidates both the old world from which the author and his protagonist come and the new one they visit." - Radmila J. Gorup, World Literature Today

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:

       Mocking Desire is the melancholy-comic story of Gregor Gradnik, a Slovenian writer who gets a fellowship to teach creative writing in New Orleans (apparently mirroring author Jancar's own experiences). He is from a place in the heart of Europe, but it is hardly known: people believe he is from Slovakia, or even "Pennslovenia" (only in America !)
       "I am an observer, he tells himself," when he arrives in this strange new world, "I observe what happens to me here on the other side of the world." He remains apart: even after he has settled in his basic character trait remains the same: "He didn't like getting overly involved."
       Some involvement is inevitable. There are friendships, fumblings at intimacy, efforts to try to get a grip on this odd place and these odd lifestyles. From the bizarre American idea of "jogging" (which utterly defeats him) to the wilder side of New Orleans (including the usual Mardi Gras excesses), Gradnik does have a fair number of experiences which are related.
       Central also is Gradnik's work for Professor Fred Blaumann, also a writer. Blaumann is, quite literally, a blue man, studying and writing about melancholy (and that, of course, in the city of the blues). Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (see our review) is a guiding text throughout the book -- so much so that Jancar includes Burton's own detailed charts of melancholy in the novel. Blaumann's project is like a modern version of Burton's classic study, but it too loses itself in melancholy.
       Blaumann does also offer writing advice (including sensible advice regarding the dreaded exclamation mark !), though the absurdity of the creative writing programme (and such programmes in general) doesn't concern Gradnik too much. Thankfully, the novel isn't too narrowly focussed on purely writerly concerns.
       "Nobody invents anything anymore" is one of the complaints in the novel. Gradnik is also less concerned with invention than observation as he muddles through in the distance, with reality trumping almost all thoughts of invention. He is a stranger in this strange land, but his approach is decidedly that of the visitor rather than exile, only occasionally engaging the world he wanders.
       Reality in Slovenia is distant but also inescapable. It intrudes through news from there, and people left behind. Eventually the book wends its way back there too, via the inevitable New York.
       There is a fairly colourful cast of characters around Gradnik, and there are some clever episodes, including the ill-fated attempt by one acquaintance (who is also involved in more sordid matters) to found a School for Creative Laughter.

       Mocking Desire is a fairly interesting -- and both amusing and poignant -- account of a contemporary (already post-communist) eastern European approach to modern America and a changing world. Gradnik's literary ennui and aimlessness -- a manifestation of the pervasive melancholy all around him -- comes across well. Still, like Gradnik, the novel is a bit unfocussed, unsure of its ends and aims -- which may be part of the point, but isn't always utterly engaging.

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Mocking Desire: Drago Jancar: Other books by Drago Jancar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Slovenian author Drago Jancar was born 13 April 1948. He has written numerous novels.

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