The Anthropos-Spectre-Beast, by Tadeusz Konwicki

Now, you don’t need me to tell you that The Anthropos-Spectre-Beast is a pretty weird novel, but all the same, let’s try a precis of the plot:

A boy, Peter, lives with his family in Warsaw; a meteorite (or perhaps asteroid) is expected to hit the Earth soon and wipe out all human life; a talking dog befriends the boy and takes him to another dimension, where he has to rescue a girl from a boy who looks like himself; after his father loses his job, he gets a part with a film company playing a spaceman.

So much for the plot.

Now, if this were a set-book I was studying in class, the obvious question to pose would be: What, then, is the Anthropos-Spectre-Beast?, and I would probably grope around ineffectually trying to write an essay to answer it. Perhaps I would get a good mark for my essay too (I often used to). But the truth of the matter is, I’ve not really got much of an idea – possibly because I don’t read books any longer for the sake of answering such questions – or, indeed, for the sake of writing anything (worthwhile or otherwise) about them – but also because the idea of the Anthropos-Spectre-Beast seems about as abstract and abstruse as the ideas one finds in a lot of modern philosophy – so much so that one is inclined to believe the writer is, in fact, quite vague about its meaning also – which, to be fair, the narrator of the book somewhat admits to.

No, I’ve not idea of the meaning of this book, or indeed much of the point of the plot, which in truth goes nowhere – nor how the worlds of the two dimensions fit together – though, of course, there are naturally a lot of crossovers. Yet, on the other hand, it’s a very entertaining book. The characters – the narrator boy in particular – maintains a pleasing Gogolian indifference to strange, dreamlike events . I liked the book’s humour. Here is a line from the book which I liked (perhaps you had to read it in context):

At that moment Buffalo’s parents passed by, laden with huge string bags stuffed with provisions. His mother had a dogged, resentful look on her face, which was not surprising.

Then, “Do you hear?” she said angrily to her husband. “The dog is speaking to that boy in a human voice.”

“Have you nothing more important to worry about?” said Buffalo’s father dispiritedly.

Having not heard of Konwicki until I was researching my East European project, naturally I walked into a secondhand bookshop today and found another of his books. This book (A Minor Apocalypse) curiously claims, in its listing of the author’s other available works, that The Anthropos-Spectre-Beast is for “Young Readers”. I can only think it is because it has a child-narrator.

I was also reading Madame by Antoni Libera, but gave after 100 pages since the author seemed to have made some bad choices around the plot. (The first 5 pages or so are worth reading though, if you come across it in a shop).

5 thoughts on “The Anthropos-Spectre-Beast, by Tadeusz Konwicki

  1. You obviously live in a very different part of the world to mine – I think I could visit bookshops from now until Christmas and not stumble across anything by writers like this…

  2. It’s true, I do live in an area, I think, where there’s a higher proportion of the kind of people who read obscure foreign books – or who, twenty thirty years ago, might have read newly published foreign books – and therefore there’s a higher proportion of such books which find their way into secondhand shops.

    On the other hand, it’s increasingly rare I find interesting books in shops these days. I tend to have to source them through Amazon.

  3. Your precis makes it sound rather like Bulgakov ( there could or might be an enormous political symbolism behind the surrealism ) or source material for a film-script by Charlie Kauffman or an animation film by Jan Svankmajer.

    I’m unlikely to find it in the Bury branch of Waterstones.

  4. ET: I suppose it is like Bulgakov. He wrote a story about a dog too, didn’t he? Can’t remember much about it now. There’s probably some political message I shouldn’t wonder – though I never could really pin one down in Bulgakov either. – The editions of his books I have come from the 70s and 80s, and I imagine he hasn’t been reprinted since then.

    C: Well, you know how it is when you think the first few pages are good and so you suppose the rest of the novel will be equally as good, and then you take the novel on a train journey and it’s the only novel you’ve taken and it turns out it wasn’t as good as you thought and in fact you don’t want to read it at all and instead you’re forced to watch an episode of (Young) Inspector Morse. You can’t expect forgiveness.

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