Every Man a Murderer
by Heimito von Doderer
"I've always thought how dreadful it must have been to live in such a time, in Spain, I mean, when the Inquisition was active there," Conrad said. "The slightest suspicion, or a denunciation, was enough to put a man in line for horrible tortures. How could anyone have enjoyed his life or taken up any interests . . ." (203-204)
Every Man a Murderer, published in 1938 even while the author was working on his larger work-The Demons, is a story of personal and political crisis. The political crisis is exemplified by the rise of National Socialism while the personal crisis has its roots in Doderer's relationships, especially his marriage and divorce.
The novel is set in Germany and is monographic in that it is focused on a single figure and his fate, character, love, and death. The narrative is leisurely and thoughtful concerning one Conrad Castiletz, a young man, who becomes fascinated with the story of his sister-in-law who was murdered on a train eight years before he met and married his wife; also how he discovers his own personal connections with this event. It is almost Sophoclean in its exploration of the protagonist's own guilt. The first third, which deals with the hero’s childhood, schooling, sexual initiation, and so on, is fascinating though seemingly not necessary for the rest of the story. It is only upon the accidental death of Conrad and the way it links to the recovery of his youthful world that the themes of accident, fate , and character link together to make the connection. For the author the task of humanization begins with overcoming character. This may be seen in the opening lines of the novel. "Everyone's childhood is plumped down over his head like a bucket. The contents of this bucket are at first unknown. But throughout life, the stuff drips down on him slowly--and there's no sense changing clothes or costume, for the dripping will continue." (p 3)
Only when Conrad begins to respect this is he able to become a person by overcoming his fate. The oppressive atmosphere of the Gestapo-like society provides a surreal and sinister background for Conrad's story.
The novel is one of ideas, spiritual linkages, and metaphysical drama, reminiscent of Hesse and Conrad or perhaps of Thomas Mann which for some readers is enough to recommend it.
"The man who lay beside the pile of lumber was no longer sick. He was, in a manner of speaking, far healthier than anyone else, for he was dead.” Or: “If anyone says, ‘Nonsense!’ in regard to something, it generally shows that he has not dealt inwardly with the matter."
This is a novel for those interested in ideas and man's spiritual dilemma.
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