The Notebook Trilogy

Awe - Survival - War

The Notebook Trilogy is "One of the best books I've read"

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Warning:  This book covers many difficult topics

Oh boy. This one is a doozy. I’ve been having a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to review The Notebook Trilogy. I think that the best possible place to start is with this:

This book is not for the faint of heart.  

It’s harrowing and confronting. By around page 30, a character has sex with a dog, and it gets weirder from there. While reading this book I threw it down in disgust at least five times. That’s why what I’m going to say next is going to be difficult to digest.

Ágota Kristóf’s The Notebook Trilogy is SO good – “One of the best books I’ve read this year” kind of good.

Every time I threw the book down, I immediately picked it back up and continued to read. In this collection there are three novels. I read The Notebook in one sitting, The Proof in two (only because I had to go out), and The Third Lie in another sitting. Despite the horrible things the book covers on its pages, I can’t express how excellent this book is. I think the descriptive words “enjoyed” or “loved” are the wrong kind of words for this. I think “awesome” in its original definition is more suiting. Something that creates a sense of awe whether it be good or bad.

The novels begin during the Nazi occupation of Hungary in the Second World War. A mother abandons her twin ten year old boys, Lucas and Klaus, with a grandmother they’ve never met. The boys are a strange pair, and soon find themselves left to their own devices in the small border town. They are away from the dangers of the front lines, but not the horrors of war.

Each chapter of the first novel, The Notebook, is only two pages long. What soon becomes clear is that the two boys are not only the narrators, but they are also the authors of the work. Since they are no longer attending school, they decide to write what they experience each day. They give themselves two hours to write two pages and they are judged not by whether the writing is good or not, but whether the writing is based on truth. The descriptive passages of what the boys see are astounding. They write these horrible things but there is an innocence to their writing. They write cold, emotionless facts. What emerges is this fascinating philosophical and yet poetic account of World War II. The style is extraordinary.

Now I’m not going to say much about the second two novels, The Proof and The Third Lie because I’ll get into spoiler territory before I know it. What I will say is that they are different from the first novel in style but not in substance.

There are still atrocities but the atrocities are much more conventional. The stylized notebook of the first novel is the starting point for the second two novels. The trilogy almost has a “play within a play” feel to it.  But that’s all I’ll say about the second novels because the amount of twists and “what the fuck!” moments that continue throughout the books are what make the reading of the trilogy such an obsessive act.

Again, I’m trying to stay away from the words “enjoyable” or “pleasurable”, but it’s a hard task. It’s kind of like going out for an incredible all-you-can-eat buffet and eating yourself sick. The food is so good that you keep eating, knowing that you’re going to be uncomfortably full and in pain afterwards. So maybe there is some joy in the act of reading the novels but not the content? Or maybe I’m just in need of therapy.

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