The second novel in Bjorneboe's ""History of Bestiality"" trilogy. The story is told by Jean, a janitor in a mental hospital in southern France. Jean keeps protocols, keeps for himself a written record of those events occurring around him. Also in the hospital are a strange cast of characters, any of whom could have committed the executtion-like hanging of an ex-German SS member around which the plot, which is akin to a mystery or espionage potboiler, revolves. It's hospital policy that everyone can give a lecture and a large portion of the book is taken up with three lectures: the narrator talks about witch symptomatology; Lacroix, a Belgian executioner, offers up a powerful, Foucault-like piece on the history of execution, executioners, and capital punishment; and the acid-dropping Dr. Lefévre discusses heresy and heretics. ""Exudes the intermittently charming hippie disaffection of the '60s."" Publishers Weekly
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Norwegian
La Poudri re, or the Powderhouse, is an old munitions storehouse in Alsace that has been converted into a private mental hospital. Ivan/Jean/Jochanaan, narrator of this polemical novel (his name varies according to the nationality of the person speaking to him) is, apparently, employed at the hospital as a janitor, on hiatus from a more cosmopolitan world; he may also be a patient. The hospital is run by Doctor Lef vre, whose methods--he drops acid with Ivan, for instance--are unorthodox but plausible in the late 1960s. Lef vre's patients include a Russian diplomat's wife who howls like a wolf; an American general who is a racist and a psychotic killer; and a Belgian executioner, Lacroix. Another patient, a Hungarian mercenary, is found hanging from a tree on the grounds. Though at first it seems he has committed suicide, it later becomes clear that he was murdered, but the murderer's identity is never revealed. Instead of focusing on plot, Bjirneboe structures the book around three lectures. Ivan's lecture is a chapter from his work in progress, the History of Bestiality, which takes witch hunts as an example of the legitimization of atrocities in the modern era, identifying a strain of authoritarianism common to Luther, Calvin and Lenin. More interesting than Ivan's easy nihilism is Lacroix's speech, in which he describes the difficulty of executing humans painlessly. Even the guillotine, according to Lacroix, can't guarantee the immediate cessation of sentience. In the third lecture, Lefevre examines the nature of heresy. Ivan's dark worldview is lightened, just barely, by his affair with Christine, a nurse. Originally published in Norway in 1969, the novel, the second in a trilogy built loosely around the narrator, exudes the intermittently charming hippie disaffection of the '60s.
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