Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: The Listener


So, this is one of those books, like Maus or Persepolis, that are discussed as if they are about an historical event, when in reality they tell one person's story in relation to that event.

Louise, our intrepid heroine, is a politically-motivated sculptress who is travelling through Europe, having political thoughts and insights about art museums and having random political conversations with strangers that she meets on the way. When she's not talking or thinking in clever slogans, she is eavesdropping on "normal" people, and we assume, making political judgements on their snippets of conversation.

She meets up with an elderly couple, Marie and Rudolph, who tell her the story of how they failed to prevent Adolf Hitler from winning his election in 1933. As we are given their story, interwoven with Louise's lack of one, the sense of responsibility and guilt that they emote are contrasted with her's. You see, she's nominally travelling because of artist's block, but really she feels responsible for the death of a Cambodian refugee who fell while hanging a protest sign. It turns out that he was inspired by one of her political sculptures.

Considering that this is a book about an artist (two, if you count Hitler), there isn't a lot of visual storytelling going on here, but a lot of conversation. All the characters have the same detached narrative voice, causing this to feel like a series of riffs rather than any kind of natural dialogue. There are a few weird pages that depict animals preying upon other animals, that I think are supposed to be metaphors for Hitler because, well, predators.

After the story proper, there is a little illustrated history of the Nazi Party, just in case the reader is unfamiliar with the concept that Hitler's government did bad things. There is also a history of the animators and cartoonists of the Third Reich, which of course is much more interesting, but has little to do with the main story.

In the end, this is a collection of things that David Lester read about and found interesting. He packaged them up in comic book and had it published. It's not terrible, but you have to be in that Ayn Rand mood to read it, where every sentence is going to be a moral judgement of some sort on you, the reader. Or should that be you, The Listener?

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