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Esquire
Wednesday, February 8th, 2006


 

Things in the Night

by Mati Unt

Beautiful, Scatterbrained Fiction from Estonia

A review by Anna Godbersen

The Estonian writer Mati Unt's novel Things in the Night begins, "My dear, I feel I owe you an explanation," and the ineffable and poignant loveliness of the phrase permeates everything that follows. It is a novel scatterbrained and intellectual, but the heartfelt sadness of its opening never wavers. The narrator is a writer attempting to write a novel about electricity, but he is wrestling with the difficult questions of how to tell his story and what to include and what indeed a novel is; in this, there is a certain Tristam Shandy-like failure to launch. Our narrator veers off the novel, then throws in some factoids from science and the theater, a few childhood memories and some anecdotes about cacti and mushrooms and pigs. There is a deep ambivalence about the world of manmade power and some hinting around about a little terrorist luddite action. All of this seems like literary game playing until the lights go off.

Things in the Night is also a book that observes nature gorgeously ("it was an evening in early August, it was too hot, silent, the smell of branches, the bright patterns of light on the moss"), which is one of the reasons it will frustrate readers aching for a more traditional plot to pull them through. But Unt can also be witty and dirty and sweet, and his writing perfectly expresses a certain resigned pessimism about the environment. After all, we live in a time when, "Some continents rise from the sea and polar ice is melting to an ever-greater extent, threatening to drown coastal countries -- such as Estonia—solving [their] problems as a nation once and for all."


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