You are walking down the street when someone suddenly grabs you by the collar, recites a story with quivering intensity and lets you go. More than an year later, you still fell the intensity of the story even through you may not recall the words. That’s my experience of reading Pär Lagerkvist‘s book “The Dwarf”. I have never had such an experience from a book and most possibly never will.
I’ll leave the summery of the plot to the capable paws of Wikipedia. From a reader’s experience, the frightening aspect of this book is it demonstrates of how a cruel personality can present itself as charismatic, sympathetic, even likeable.
The book is a first person narration by the main/title character – a Dwarf in the court of a fictitious prince in renaissance Italy. the character has endured a cruel life when the book opens. He is treated as a sub human curiosity by society. The daily indignities of his life makes it very easy for us to feel sympathetic. He is also a blunt speaker with interesting and provocative world views. This gives an impression of honesty and integrity that is initially admirable.
Yet it becomes quite clear that this initially admirable character is a sociopath. The fanatical manner of his narration creates an unmistakable manifestation of Hitler, twitching away at the microphone of a Nazi rally. There is something particularly chilling in the way the main character revels in the suffering of others. Particularly his righteous justifications of killings and glorification of ultimately stalemated wars.
My descriptions are obviously sweeping generalisations. In the book they communicated to you in very personal, efficiently vivid detailed twists in the narrative. In the hands of a lesser author, the title character would flatten into an easily hateable caricature. Lars injects careful layers of sympathetic detail to make the Dwarf something much more complicated.
I am obviously not a literary critic. Just a dim, weak willed reader easily suckered by good writing. If you have read this book, what was your experience of it?
Not the 600th post I expected but such is the way of the voices.