Published by Vintage on 28 August 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction
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What happens when we discover who we really are? And how do we come to terms with it? Fearless and original, The Zone of Interest is a violently dark love story set against a backdrop of unadulterated evil, and a vivid journey into the depths and contradictions of the human soul.
There was an old story about a king who asked his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. Instead, it showed you your soul – it showed you who you really were. But the king couldn’t look into the mirror without turning away, and nor could his courtiers. No one could.
I read London Fields while studying literature at University, and I remember being excited about it. The opening chapter is one I will always remember. So I was thrilled to receive an ARC from Netgalley of Martin Amis’s new novel – The Zone of Interest. I was hoping for a similar kind of excitement and novelty.
Amis delivered on both accounts, but I am afraid I struggled with the subject matter and the way he dealt with it, and could not finish the book despite the good writing and interesting plot.
The story is set during WWII in a concentration (death) camp. There are three narratives. The first is a Nazi guard “Golo” whose attentions turn to the Kommandant’s wife – Hannah. The second is the Kommandant himself and the third is a Jewish prisoner, Szmul, who helplessly witnesses the atrocities and systematic murder of his people.
This is a shocking book. Amis writes it as a black comedy, and I think that was my problem with it. I found it increasingly difficult to bear and couldn’t handle any more horror treated with such nonchalance and lightness. The corpses were an ‘inconvenience’ and mass murder is simple routine and a job.
I know Amis is making a point – I get it, I really do – but it was all just too terrible!
I understand what Amis set out to achieve in this novel (and he succeeds!) – Mass murder as a business, dehumanising victims, depraved bureaucracies etc – but I just couldn’t take the horror any longer, so I gave up on this about halfway through. One of the darkest and most shameful periods of our history is treated as a ‘dark comedy’, and I simply could not stomach it.
Let me reiterate that this is a good book, and I still wonder what becomes of the characters. Many people will like this novel but if, like me, you have too much empathy, you will find this a very difficult read.