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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Daša Drndić

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To purchase EEG

Title: EEG
Author: Daša Drndić
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 455 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: EEG - US
E.E.G. - UK
EEG - Canada
  • Croatian title: EEG
  • US title: EEG
  • UK title: E.E.G.
  • Translated by Celia Hawkesworth

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sprawling, but powerful and engaging

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 16/11/2018 Eileen Battersby
The Guardian . 8/12/2018 Claire Messud
Harper's . 4/2019 Lidija Haas
The Nation . 1/8/2019 Nathan Goldman
The NY Rev.of Books . 6/6/2019 Merve Emre
TLS . 14/12/2018 Amanda Hopkinso

  From the Reviews:
  • "It does no disservice to describe E.E.G. as a continuation of Belladonna, albeit driven by a more forceful mixture of personal recollection. (...) Wry and kindly, funny, angry, informed and intent on the truth, no voice is quite as blisteringly beautiful as that of Drndic. Ban is the witness, the seeker of truth." - Eileen Battersby, Financial Times

  • "His rambling intensity is alternately exhilarating and intolerable: there is great wisdom, along with dark history, in these pages, for those ready to take on the challenge. (...) Any narrative arc in this novel is tenuous, at best. (...) E.E.G. reveals Drndić as a writer and thinker of ever greater relevance, a voice whose wide-ranging screeds we ignore at our peril. This book is not, however, an achieved literary or artistic artifact: incontinent, ill shaped (or unshaped) and shoddily written, it’s often tough sledding." - Claire Messud, The Guardian

  • "As its title may suggest, the novel is structured somewhat like a scan of his brain activity, which is to say that it’s associative, looping, digressive: thrilling and deliberately infuriating in equal measure. By the same token, it’s also, like several of Drndić’s other books, an experiment in how much of the horrific twentieth century one work of fiction can swallow without breaking apart. (...) EEG is a monument against the common notion that political convictions soften with age, as you learn to let the world off the hook. Neither Drndić nor her books did any such thing." - Lidija Haas, Harper's

  • "Fittingly for the aesthetic vision she states plainly by way of Ban’s, her prose is for the most part gnarled, knotty, tangled -- ugly in a manner appropriate to her assessment of history’s structure and the world’s bleakness. But moments of beauty do break through." - Nathan Goldman, The Nation

  • "EEG continues to refuse any form that absorbs the novel's assorted parts -- the long digressions into the history of chess in Nazi Germany, the files of psychiatric patients, the biographies of Latvian SS collaborators -- into a complete and self-contained whole." - Merve Emre, The New York Review of Books

  • "Drndić moves beyond a stream of consciousness to capture thought processes in interaction with the written word. Her method is to amass “fragments” of contemporary material: the descriptive power resides in its selection and omissions." - Amanda Hopkinson, 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:

       Andreas Ban, familiar from Drndić's Belladonna, returns to narrate EEG -- and, yes, readers might have been left with some doubts about that happening at the conclusion of Belladonna, but, as Ban makes clear in his opening sentence: "Of course I didn't kill myself".
       He refers back to the previous exercise, too, claiming: "Writing Belladonna was a game. A jerky confession passably shaped by D.D.". And he suggests:

     Autobiographical books don't exist, autobiographies don't exist, there are multigraphies, biographical mixes, biographical cocktails, the whole mélange of a life through which we dig, which we clear out, from which we select fragments, little pieces that we stuff into our pockets, little mouthfuls that we swallow as though they were our own.
       While retired psychologist Ban's experiences and movements -- visiting his sister in the old family home in Rovinj, dealing with bureaucracy in trying to get his son enrolled in school after returning from years spent abroad, traveling elsewhere, going through old case studies of his -- are the foundations of the narrative, he looks more to others' lives (and fates) than his own; there is personal introspection, but his purview extends far beyond. Indeed, as in Belladonna:
again, as several times in the course of my roaming round Europe, History had grabbed me by the throat and clouded my already problematic vision.
       Playing chess with his sister, for example, leads to long riffs on the fates of chess players -- descending into madness, suicides ("There are a lot of them, these chess-playing suicides"), victims of totalitarian (Nazi and Soviet) regimes. It's only one of several variations on such lists, litanies, and inventories; at one point he does (more or less) hold himself back, acknowledging:
If I start listing it, someone might think that I am obsessed, ask why I have got so stuck, and say that that does not belong in literature, that those were nothing but the most ordinary defamatory scribblings.
       But often he can't resist -- knowing also that:
     Lists, particularly when they are read aloud, became salvos, each name a shot, the air trembles and shakes with the gunfire.
       Ban continues to seethe with outrage -- frustrated both by the facts themselves and how little of what he addresses is known, recalled, or widely discussed --, tallying horrific numbers of large-scale slaughters in their various forms, specifically under the Nazi and Soviet regimes. A figure from his distant personal past, Leila, calls, leading down him another historic rabbit-hole of family histories -- his and hers -- and possible connections, reconstructing the terrible times and what happened (and putting him off re-connecting with Leila). Latvia, and the complicity of many Latvians in specifically Nazi actions, is a particular focus here, Ban documenting and recounting: "I have collected a longish list of those former Latvian S.S. collaborators, I have heaps of photographs" -- with particular attention also on how few consequences many faced, as he notes how many were never brought to justice and lived comfortably after the war.
       A former close friend and colleague, Adam Kaplan, commits suicide and leaves a long letter for Ban, and leads him to go through old files of patients he and Kaplan treated, a sequence of case studies of the mentally fragile and broken. Ban collects stories throughout and in laying them out finds: "a map of life opened up" -- though also: "everything vacillates and, as in that vacillation, alters". He establishes connections -- finding also of these lives: "many of them were like others, that they were in fact the same life, or rather that they could have been one single life".
       Among the disturbing things that become clear is just how deep the human toll is, on larger and smaller scales -- practically everywhere Ban turns or looks. So even in Ban's closer circle, with colleague Kaplan a suicide -- yet another suicide -- and another colleague, the chief medical nurse at the hospital where Ban worked with Kaplan, and "Kaplan's right hand" overwhelmed by the obsessive-compulsive complete disorder she developed, complete with a terrible end (involving pigeons, too; one can understand why Ban has his own issues with pigeons ...).
       There are some closer family recollections and experiences as well: early on, sister Ada, living in the cellar of the old family home in a changed Croatia, and then memories of the ends of the lives of their mother, in Paris in the 1970s, and then, more recently, the father. Indeed, Ban suggests near the end: "Perhaps I am writing a book about my father, not a book about myself and my father" -- but he only does so to the extent that all of this is of a (huge, unwieldy, sweeping) piece.
       Among the personal present-day experiences Ban relates is his (i.e. Drndić's) participation in the 2015 Festival degli Scrittori - Premio Gregor von Rezzori, complete with takes on co-panelists Ilustrado -author Miguel Syjuco -- "A novel could be written about Miguel Syjuco, or if not a novel then certainly a novella", he suggests (and then noting also: "I won't tell his life story, it's in print, so if anyone wants it, it's there") -- and Maaza Mengiste. The section is an amusing brief take on the contemporary arts-prize/festival/retreat scene and this particular iteration, where Ban finds his frustrations substantiated yet again -- summing up:
     It was as though, during my stay in Tuscany, I had ended up in an American period drama, but there is no drama.
       Even as the narrative ranges widely, Ban complains of the limitations of form; he wishes for a physically different presentation for some of his side-stories:
     This digressionary little tale (like the other stories that fall out of the frame and upset or break the so-called "uniform flow of narration") ought to lie in a real little envelope stuck where the tale is inserted. Then whoever holds the book in his hands could take the little tale out and read it (with the aid of a cheap plastic magnifying glass attached to the book, because the little tale would be printed in tiny letters, because of its alleged insignificance), and if he doesn't wish to -- so what ? [...] But, no one wants to make such a "design," no publisher, no printer, because it's expensive and considered absurd.
       EEG is sprawling and unwieldy, with sections that are intense in their focus but the narrative then shifting, often entirely elsewhere. A loose web of connections does help hold the larger narrative together, but Ban, and his story, are literally all over the place -- geographically, temporally, historically. Yet for all its seemingly unstructured sprawl EEG isn't really messy; it isn't even hard to read or follow, as Ban dedicates himself so emphatically to his subject matter, and his points. (If it is hard to read, it is because of how much tragedy and horror is found in these pages, some of it quite graphically (if also quite clinically) recounted, an enormous number of examples of variously ruined lives as well as the shocking lists and numbers of the mass-slaughtered.)
       Ban -- and Drndić's -- passion make for a powerful book; EEG is, despite its seeming disarray, a riveting, provocative read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 December 2018

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EEG: Reviews: Other books by Daša Drndić under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Croatian-writing author Daša Drndić lived 1946 to 2018

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© 2018-2019 the complete review

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