A MODERN MASTER’S WRY AND ENTERTAINING TAKE ON HISTORY’S BEST-KNOWN LOVER
In Don Juan, Peter Handke offers his take on the famous seducer. Don Juan’s story—“his own version”—is filtered through the consciousness of an anonymous narrator, a failed innkeeper and chef, into whose solitude Don Juan bursts one day. On each day of the week that follows, Don Juan describes the adventures he experienced on that same day a week earlier. The adventures are erotic, but Handke’s Don Juan is more pursued than pursuer. What makes his accounts riveting are the remarkable evocations of places and people, and the nature of his narration. This is, above all, a book about storytelling and its ability to burst the ordinary boundaries of time and space.
In this brief and wry volume, Handke conjures images and depicts the subtleties of human interaction with an unforgettable vividness. Along the way, he offers a sharp commentary on many features of contemporary life.
Don Juan catapults over a garden wall and into the life of an anonymous narrator in this short, frustrating novel. Over the course of a week, the narrator, a lonely French innkeeper, listens to Don Juan relate the adventures that culminate with his arrival at the inn. In the preceding seven days, Don has traveled from Tbilisi to Damascus, Norway, Holland and then to “the last country, completely nameless” before making his way to the French inn. The reason for his travels is never made clear, nor is his motivation for relating his story to the innkeeper. This sense of mysterious imbalance is compounded by the narrator's recounting of Don Juan's tales, which often deal with seductions and couplings either offstage or with clinical swiftness. The pointedly dry story about a character famous as a connoisseur of pleasures holds interest as a concept, but the novel's entertainment value is quickly buried under a pile of unanswered questions, and the endless deferring of literal and figurative climaxes feels almost like punishment. (Feb.)