I am breaking my review schedule to post this review because it is the first Kindle First book I’ve greatly enjoyed and it is currently free to Prime members through the Kindle First program through the end of August (you do not need to own a Kindle reader, but do need the Kindle app). If you are not a Prime member, it is currently on sale for $1.99 through the end of August. I wanted to make sure you can snag it if you’re interested in reading it (I will NOT receive compensation if you decide to download it). I will not be reflecting on this book.
The Judgment of Richard Richter by Igo Štiks 4/ 5 stars
Trigger Warnings: Suicide (not graphically depicted); suicide ideation (discussed at length); wartime violence (not graphically depicted); incest (discussed at length; not graphically depicted)
While I enjoyed this book more than I expected, it is not a book for everyone. It is a work of true literary fiction, in the style of Dostoevsky and Joyce, with long descriptive sentences, which often contemplate on the ideas of fate, war, destiny, and identity. Long passages in the book debate and reflect on these ideas, without really moving the plot forward. This style of writing can be boring to some, laborious to others, and enjoyable to readers like me.
The Judgment of Richard Richter is written in the first person with Richard Richter narrating and writing a personal memoir, thus going back and forth between his writing of the memoir and the actual story he is writing the memoir about, sometimes without clear transitions signaling the change in timeline. Richter is a writer who upon separating from his wife, moves back in with the aunt who raised him. It is here where Richter finds the information that upends the truth of his life and sends him searching for answers. To say much more would give away large sections of the plot.
In Richter’s search, there are plot points which become obvious before they are related to the reader and then other plot points which come as a surprise. Much of what is obvious is meant to be so as Richter himself greatly alludes to how certain parts of his story play out. This is connected to the theme of fate, as though it was inevitable for certain things to happen, and in the present, he laments on the cruelty of fate. These lamentations are often melodramatic and highlight Richter’s cynical nature. This follows the writing style of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, two of several authors whom Richter references in his writings and calls them friends.
The story unfolds slowly, spending time building up all the necessary pieces and giving enough depth to the main characters to make the reader more invested in their story. The tone throughout the book is foreboding and suggests there will not be a happy ending. Richter makes that clear as he sits in Vienna writing down the events which recently transpired. Yet, the story is not sad, it simply feels inevitable, and thus, one walks away with more satisfaction from having learned all the details than with sadness for all which has transpired.
This writing style is not for everyone as in addition to the long descriptive sentences and passages, Štiks makes uses of literary references and other languages. There are several specific references to several specific books and if one has not read those stories, it can be a bit challenging to understand the deeper symbolism, but one can still understand the plot. These references can at times be lengthy and used as explanation for what is happening in the scene. The story also makes use of many different languages including French, German, Bosnian, and Spanish and these phrases are only rarely translated. There are also times when one is not quite able to garner their meaning from the context. Richter argues that Simon’s use of all these languages mixed in with his English makes his speech richer. While for the most part, the use of untranslated language did add to the book, there were a few times it was frustrating and partly detracted from the book.
As one can garner from the trigger warnings, this subject matter is not for everyone. The theme of suicide and incest are throughout the book, making it advisable to pass on this book if discussions of such topics are triggering for you. The book is not graphic in its depictions of any potentially triggering scene, but the sheer length and depth of discussion around particularly incest could potentially be as triggering as graphic depiction. The theme of suicide is throughout the book, but it is not discussed to the same length or depth as incest is. In addition to the discussion of incest itself, there are several references to Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Max Frish’s Homo Faber.
I found this to be a beautifully written book contemplating fate through a slowly developing story, but one of my favorite novels is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I found the long contemplation on various concepts to be engaging, but I enjoy deep, intellectual conversations and reflections. I enjoyed the long sentences and long passages with descriptive, overly written language, though I appreciated that it was more accessible than Dostoevsky and Joyce. I did not mind that the book was long and that there was not much in the way of plot. This is the style of book I am looking for when it is labeled literary fiction and I am so glad this book satisfied. A decent number of books today do not live up to the literary fiction labels, but this one does.
I received this book free through the Kindle First program, though this did not affect the honesty of this review.