Alan's Reviews > Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred

Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Bare... by Carl-Johan Vallgren
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's review
Sep 23, 2008

it was ok
Recommended to Alan by: Lesley
Read in September, 2008 , read count: 1

"For our hero, years of darkness and humiliation were in store."

So ends the first section of this bleakly inventive Swedish novel - and indeed, this prediction proves accurate. The life of the deformed dwarf Hercules Barefoot (Hercule Barfuss) is lit only briefly by sunshine. Short-lived interludes of happiness serve only the better to contrast with the near-relentless cataracts of pustules and perversions which are his lot.

I read this back-to-back with Chet Raymo's The Dork of Cork, another novel featuring a very short protagonist, when they were both recommended to me by my South African correspondent Lesley, and I have to say that this one suffered from the juxtaposition. Hercules Barefoot is never a likeable protagonist - though he has triumphed over profound physical handicaps and in the process developed great mental powers of telepathy and persuasion, he remains persecuted and unhappy.

Perhaps this is an effect of translation, but the prose seemed to me to be rather flat as well. Vallgren never seemed fully to engage with his protagonist with enough warmth to transcend the separation between him and his reader. Contrast this with Raymo's treatment of Frankie Bois, or the portrayal of Arturo Binewski in Katherine Dunn's Geek Love.

The book is not without other literary antecedents as well, such as Peter Carey's The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith. But I think that the one that most closely mirrors this book's approach is noted Chilean writer José Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night (see also Wikipedia) - Hercules Barefoot is Donoso's Imbunche, set free to roam the world... and he's not especially happy about it.

It was an okay book - well-enough written, with a coherent plot and, in the end, resolution. It just left me a little cold...

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