The last decade was marked by the resounding success of the detective novel. It turned out that crime stories, both imported and domestic, were the most sought-after, and perhaps the most reliable sort of narrative – from the reader's point of view, naturally – concerning the social reality of late capitalism.
Every trend contains a germ of its own dissolution. Detective novels, even the finest ones, whet our appetite for anti-detective novels. It is none too clear what exactly an anti-detective novel might be, but we shall accept this working definition: it is a novel which bears analogies to the detective novel in terms of plot, but the blank spots are in different places, which means the reader's expectations are continually foiled. The Hunters' Moon by Julita Bielak and Katarzyna Krenz more or less meets these conditions.
First of all, this is – your attention, please – a novel about writing a novel about writing a novel. Meta-metafiction. Postmodernism has walked a long road from the intellectual salons of Paris and New York to give us this book, but it does not diminish the latter's inventiveness. If we are to believe the publisher, the authors created The Hunters' Moon via correspondence, through exchanging ideas and fragments of text. This is reflected in the novel's structure in which the narrative chapters blend with the epistolary ones, except that the epistolary layer is also part of the fictional – or at least allegedly fictional – creation. Complicated? Surprisingly , it is not really that complicated at all.
But let's take it one step at a time. We alight on the Isle of Sylt, once a poverty-stricken scrap of sand inhabited by Frisian fishermen, presently an up-scale German resort. It is foggy, damp, and oddly warm, much like its geographical location. Off-season, without the tens of thousands of wealthy holiday-makers from the continent, time passes languidly in Sylt to the ebb and flow of the tide, traveling on gusts of western winds. This lazy, northern idyll is shaken by the discovery of a young man who has been severely beaten in the town of Westerland. What was his mysterious aim in coming to the island? Whom was he meant to be meeting? And who wanted him gone from this world?
Mystery novels love to focus on small communities, and this one is no exception. All the clues lead to a humble cafe where the main protagonists of The Hunters' Moon meet. Many of them are escapees from their previous incarnations: a French mathematician, a Swedish sailor, an Englishwoman who has gotten knocked up. The cafe is an allegory for the entire island, a place for seeking asylum, a safe shelter from a hostile world, but also from one’s own former self.
A series of newcomers appear in search of the young man, who is temporarily suffering from post-traumatic amnesia. There is his anxious girlfriend from Lübeck, an arrogant investigative reporter snooping around for a hot story, and an environmental activist from a non-governmental organization. They all introduce new questions: What links this assault with the widely-publicized disappearance of a scientist investigating the coastal shelves a year earlier?
The story is what it is – in and of itself fairly standard. More interesting things occur when this novel collides with its epistolary commentary. Read in this way, The Hunters' Moon begins to recall something like a laboratory for pop literature. The letters reveal serious artistic ambitions: the desire to give the text existential depth, to situate it in the cultural context of the contemporary humanities and arts. The quasi-authors (let us recall that this is the middle layer of the narrative, with only one “meta-”) are fascinated by the work of Ingmar Bergman; as such, they try to give their novel a touch of his fatalism and melancholy. The difficulty is that if the detective novel is to appease the publishers' and readers' expectations, it needs to have highly conventional solutions.
And this is essentially the main conflict that drives this peculiar book – a conflict that lies outside of the plot. Writing a novel can be boiled down to a sequence of choices concerning the protagonists' motives or the plot development: The Hunters' Moon has a powerful ideological superstructure, but it lacks any particular connection to the base – the content of the story about Sylt, which obediently remains within the limits of the detective prose sub-genre (inspired more by Camilla Läckberg than by Bergman or Tarkovsky). And the reader? The reader remains in a state of pleasant disorientation.
– Piotr Kofta
Translated by Soren Gauger