Other Bookshelf (Lisa Hayden Espenschade)

Wednesday 7 March 2012
by  NLLG

More Czech Absurdity: Ouředník’s Case Closed

By Lisa Hayden Espenschade

Other Bookshelf, Sunday, January 8, 2012

It would be an overstatement to say that I didn’t understand Patrik Ouředník’s Case Closed (translated from the original Ad Acta by Alex Zucker)… but it would also be an overstatement to say that I know, for sure, for definite, what Ouředník wanted to say in this book about, ostensibly, some criminal acts and investigations. The book feels a little mixed up to me, with, perhaps, one too many subplots and thematic threads for its 143 short pages, but Case Closed is so funny—thanks to that Eastern European absurdity I love so much—that I was more than happy to just read along and laugh, writing “ha ha” in my margins. Which may, I think, be the point…

The most central character in Case Closed is one Viktor Dyk, a grumpy retiree who collects beetles, has written a forgotten novel, and generally dislikes people. He also loves inserting invented information into conversation:

“Dyk had a habit of pulling pronouncements out of his noggin and dressing them up with fraudulent, usually biblical, sources. Long ago he had come to realize that repeating what someone else had once said was considered the utmost expression of intelligence in his country.”

Viktor, who’s been something of a ladies’ man, also loves analyzing the personals. A piece:

“None of them were attractive, but plenty of them had been told they were attractive, or were of athletic build (great, a discus thrower…). [...] COME INTO MY VOICE MAIL, as one ad was headed, struck Dyk as near pornographic.”

I also got some good laughs about Viktor’s love of taking public transportation at rush hour so he can knock people on the shins with his cane. And belch, releasing odors.

Ouředník doesn’t limit himself to describing Dyk’s misanthropy: he also discusses language. Throughout the novel, Ouředník slips in lines like “For Dyk, Jr., though, it was further proof that language was useless, being utterly unfit for interpersonal communication.” Ouředník obligingly offers up, as proof, conversations with miscommunication. From another angle, we learn that writing’s not all Papa Dyk might have wanted since, “Writing novels turned out to be much less fun than collecting beetles.” And we read that novels and life are similar. The narrator says, “We began this story with no clear aim or preconceived idea,” and the thought thread about novels culminates, later, with this:

“By now our readers have definitively understood that they definitively understood nothing: what could be a more sensible conclusion to our novel that than? Acceptance of fate, acceptance of one’s lot, acceptance of one’s imperfection. How simple, how biblical!”