Books, Reading, Review
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Book Review – ‘Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz’

InsidetheHeadofBrunoSchulzTitle: Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz
Author: Maxim Biller (translated by Anthea Bell)
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

“Locked away in a dimly lit cellar in a provincial Polish town, the writer Bruno Schulz is composing a letter to Thomas Mann, warning him of a sinister impostor who has deceived the gullible inhabitants of Drohobycz. In return, he’s hoping that the great writer might help him to escape – from his apocalyptic visions, his bird-brained students, the imminent Nazi invasion, and a sadistic sports mistress called Helena.
In Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, Biller blends biographical fact with surreal fiction to recreate the world as seen through the eyes of one of the most original writers of the twentieth century. The novella is published alongside two short stories by Schulz himself, ‘Birds’ and ‘Cinnamon Shops’.” (pushkinpress.com)

This is by far the weirdest book I have ever read. It is also the one that has played with my mind the most. Not only did I find myself questioning the sanity of the protagonist, but I also found myself questioning my own mind and whether what I was comprehending was actually what I was reading.

In the early stages of reading, I found the sentences to be overly long and difficult to read and the narrative itself was a little jumpy. I initially attributed this to the fact that the book was originally written in German and the translator had perhaps not done a very good job in translating it into English. While I’m not an expert on translated books by any means, I can imagine that there would be some difficulty in communicating the nuances of the original language into English. But as I read on, I came to the conclusion that the long sentences were exactly as they should be, and that what I was reading was actually like being privy to one person’s stream of consciousness.

It all started out normal enough, but it wasn’t long until Bruno seemingly began his descent into madness, while asserting in his letter to Thomas Mann that it was the rest of the town who weren’t themselves. But it was this that had me questioning what I was reading. Who was mad – Bruno or the rest of the town? Did any of the events Bruno was communicating to Mann actually happen? Long story short, it had me questioning the reality of the novel, and the reality of the protagonist. As the story progresses events get stranger and stranger, and more than once I found myself rereading sentences to make sure that was I read was actually what I had read. This meant that a book (novella really) that at around 60 pages should have only taken an hour to read, took me at least twice that. This isn’t including the two short stories at the end.

If I could make one recommendation with this book, it would be to read the short stories after it, prior to reading Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz. Little did I know that Bruno Schulz was actually a real person, whose mind appears to have been a pretty scary place (if some of his artwork is anything to go by), and the two short stories that make an appearance at the end of this book, are stories written by Schulz himself. After reading those I realised two things:

  • Firstly, what an incredible job Maxim Biller has done in writing a book essentially in character as another author. The long sentences in Biller’s story echo the writing of Schulz, and upon reflection it’s easy to think that Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz was actually written by Schulz himself.
  • The second thing I realised, is that what happens in Biller’s story is also reflective of Schulz’ work. In both we see humans taking on the characteristics of animals, and after reading about the key concepts of Schulz’ writing, specifically that of birds, I’m not surprised at Biller’s use of our feathered friends in his own work.

Despite being completely weirded out and questioning my own comprehension of things, I LOVED reading this. Being able to read the work of the real Bruno Schulz and a little bit about the man himself has increased my appreciation of how well Maxim Biller has written his own work, and how well it’s been translated by Anthea Bell.

Reading inside someone’s head and feeling yourself spiraling away with them is a very disconcerting experience, but creepily fun at the same time. So if you want to get to the end of a book and question everything you’ve just read about it, then Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz is definitely the book for you.

Many thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!

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