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The Cannibal

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  201 ratings  ·  20 reviews
"No synopsis conveys the quality of this now famous novel about an hallucinated Germany in collapse after World War II. John Hawkes, in his search for a means to transcend outworn modes of fictional realism, has discovered a highly original technique for objectifying the perennial degradation of mankind within a context of fantasy… Nowhere has the nightmare of human terror ...more
Paperback, 195 pages
Published January 17th 1962 by New Directions (first published 1949)
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1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
181st out of 404 books — 524 voters
The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Reader by Bernhard SchlinkThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John BoyneThose Who Save Us by Jenna BlumThe Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll
Novels Set in Germany
177th out of 265 books — 111 voters


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Community Reviews

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mark monday
another forgotten and brilliant classic. the challenging writing style will put casual readers off, but for me it was great experiencing this bizarre, sinister dreamscape of a post-ww2 germany. or really any kind of blighted post-war city, trying to rebuild. at times it reads like a perverse counterpoint to mrs. dalloway, complete with its own scarier version of septimus smith. overall a sordid but gorgeous novel. the majestic heroine will do anything it takes to survive; eat up!
Nate D
Oct 18, 2013 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: foxes who may yet escape their hunters
Recommended to Nate D by: The dogs that chase the train to become paying customers
What's most astonishing about this landscape of destruction is not its cynical and morally ambiguous treatment of 20th century history -- somewhere perhaps on the post-war continuum containing Catch 22, Gravity's Rainbow, Europe After the Rain, and Slaughterhouse Five, all of those less journalistic, more impressionistic attempts to comprehend the disasters of the last hundred years -- but that the Cannibal seeks much the same perspective, but from much much closer to the events themselves, orig ...more
Paul Gleason
I literally just finished reading Hawkes' novel and feel compelled to write about it, even though it's just now passing into my digestive track. But, then again, I don't think that I'll ever get this astonishing novel fully into my stomach - and that's a good thing.

The Cannibal is one of those books that will never ease my hunger. It will reside in my body for the rest of my days. I'm so glad it's there.

My first rumblings on finishing The Cannibal have to do with what Hawkes completes and what h
...more
Allan MacDonell
A novel set in a German hamlet in the immediate aftermath of World War II would be remiss if it weren’t a nightmarish elucidation of the darkest recesses available to the human soul. The community of crippled World War losers and the passing column of arrogant victors doing their murky plotting in John Hawkes’s The Cannibal take readers into degraded regions of ambition and endeavor beyond where light can hope to reach. The view, though not clear, is clearly bleak. Hawkes’s deluded and murderous ...more
James
4/5
It's easy to see why John Hawkes was name checked in the infamous Mr. Difficult essay. Hawkes uses a very spare framework to tell this story, and to be quite honest I could have done some re-reading to really sink my teeth into book. My gut reaction from my hurried reading was that I need to read more Hawkes, so I'm going to just stop here and marvel in the fact that this was someone's debut novel in the late forties. Bring on The Lime Twig !
Vit Babenco
Surreally tenebrous novel The Cannibal reminded me of Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo - although thematically they are pretty different both tales have thick suffocating atmosphere of descending into hell.
“The flats turned away before us, unpeopled, dark, an occasional shell-case filling with seepage, the fingers of a lost glove curling with dew. Behind us the ghosts left the stalled tank and filed downward toward the canal.”
Civilization hides some primordial hungers and when the rules are removed we
...more
Amy
To be honest, I don't really know what happened in this book. Parts 1& 3 take place at the end of WW2, while Part 2 happens around WW1, but all take place in a fictional German town. The only character shared by both parts is Stella Snow, and from what I can tell, she basically just sluts it up. There's also a guy on a motorcycle - Angel of Death? Poor sap? who knows...
Reid
Feb 07, 2013 Reid rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Hawkes fans, war interests
Recommended to Reid by: author via S.Penk's other review
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carl
It's not as good as 'The Lime Twig', still my favorite of the Hawkes I've read; in the same general vein as 'The Beetle Leg' but not as realized IMHO. All three of them make sense as his first three novels, compared to a book like 'The Blood Oranges', where he's left the surreal nightmare-scapes behind. Incredibly impressive for a 22 year old in the late 1940s. He is a difficult writer, it is disjointed in narrative and minimal in plot, and yet I am drawn to his work, in a way that I can't expla ...more
Amanda
Sparse language ripe with imagery. The devastation seeps from every word.
Cody
I finished The Cannibal a couple days ago and now on to The Lime Twig. The first few attempts to read The Cannibal didn't go over so well. I would get to about page 20 something and stop not sure what was happening. But one thing that always drew me back to this book was Hawkes' brilliant descriptions. They're beautifully written and composed. I love the fact there's hardly and dialogue in it. If Hawkes had written this as a movie it would be an interesting silent film. Unfortunately I didn't kn ...more
Marilyn Moreau
Heavy symbolism. In fact, the entire book is comprised of symbolism so if you're looking for a plot, forget it. Shoots back and forth from Germany 1918 to Germany 1945. Think Ageyev or Kiesbye meets Böll.
Andy
Has that grim, "experimental literature" text-focussed flavor, rather sterile. That soulless "academy writing" atmosphere is actually a fine match for the nightmare conception of the action, like a grim music video shot in ostentatiously grainy "experimental film" black and white. But the author doesn't have nearly as much to say as his technique lets on (or his subject matter would seem to demand) and the opacity becomes irritating. This kind of freestyle approach really requires a perfect cont ...more
Hodges
Seven-half stars and a need to chew, digest, and expel from my system.

Note to self: read it again x years from now, because it will undoubtedly be a different book.
Poingu
Ok, I really hated this book, but I give it five stars. Let me explain. I had to put it down a lot--sort of the equivalent of covering my eyes at the movies. Reading it did strange, bad things to my heart rate. The book is a masterpiece of oblique anxiety and despair. Events are much more unhinged than in Kafka, with whom Hawkes is sometimes compared. Disturbing and unique.
robert
This rightly feels like a young man's book, because its author was only 24 when it was published. Due to the introduction, I could discern the opaque plot hidden in the murky prose, but this still read like a long, allegorical, free-verse prose poem. The horror did not resonate for me, perhaps because I felt no emotional momentum.
Pete Camp
Certainly beautifully written and very layered tale of Germany immediately following WW11. Full of despair and very dark. Will have to reread to fully decipher Hawkes' meaning. Great read however.
Doug Hart
Strange, strange tale about soldier turned grim-reaper-like biker in post-WWII Germany. Hard to figure out what's going on most of the time but Hawkes' corrosive poetry more than makes up for the lack of plot.
Cana
May 23, 2013 Cana marked it as to-read
Amazing literature so far! Very intrigued by the writers skill and ability to paint a picture of not only the scene but also the characters themselves!
Liza
couldn't do it....too much arty bleak description.
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John Hawkes, born John Clendennin Talbot Burne Hawkes, Jr., was a postmodern American novelist, known for the intensity of his work, which suspended the traditional constraints of the narrative.
Born in Stamford, Connecticut, and educated at Harvard University, Hawkes taught at Brown University for thirty years. Although he published his first novel, The Cannibal, in 1949, it was The Lime Twig (196
...more
More about John Hawkes...
The Lime Twig The Blood Oranges Second Skin Travesty The Beetle Leg

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