The Labyrinth of the City, July 28, 2010
There is no murder in Patrik Ouředník’s postmodern detective novel Case Closed. If that sounds like a spoiler, think again. Ouředník is a master at subverting the reader’s expectations. (On second thought, perhaps there is a murder!) His protagonist Victor Dyk is a pensioner in modern day Prague. When we first meet Dyk, he is sitting on a park bench, ready to crush a beetle with his cane. The act is interrupted (the beetle escapes!) by a young female (“braless” wearing a “deep-cut blouse”) who asks for directions to the Academy of Fine Arts. Dyk politely sends her the wrong way. “She could have lifted her skirt, mused Dyk. Just for a second, what harm would it have done her? There was no one else around. She could have shown me her pussy and I would have told her how to get to the Academy.”
If we can’t trust an old man on a park bench, then who can we trust? What can we trust? In Case Closed, not even words are safe. Almost every conversation is a sort of misunderstanding, “further proof that language was useless, being utterly unfit for interpersonal communication.”
Ouředník is a writer obsessed with numbers and statistics. His earlier novel Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century begins, “The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimetres on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers.” In Case Closed the narrator tells us that “statistics provide only an imperfect picture of an individual’s life.”
What matters is what happens to us. There... the case is not yet closed.