You know what, sometimes it seems to me we’re living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves. We decide what’s good and what isn’t, we draw maps of meanings for ourselves . . . And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for ourselves. The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other.– Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Summary and Thoughts
In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind . . .
Tokarczuk, best known for her nobel literature prize award-winning book Flights, crafts a character-driven mystery in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, with a pointed satire-edge to the well known “Miss Marple” type of mysteries — a cozy town, a score of grotesque murders, and an older woman whom others disregard, a woman who says she knows who committed the crimes — the animals. While I enjoyed the concept of the story, for me, there wasn’t really enough story to sink my teeth in. Plenty of agreeable descriptions, the pacing acceptable on its own, but when the ending is reached, it’s hardly impactful due to the lack of depth I found in the various characters and world (save for the main character). Finally, while I understand and appreciate that there are cultural nuances here that may not immediately jump out at me (the references to William Blake, the connections between Catholicism and hunting in Poland, etc.), I can’t help but feel that Tokarczuk muddles the message of her story through her ending, leaving me a bit confused as to what she’s trying to communicate. That being said, while I’m glad to have read this interesting book, I can’t quite recommend it (especially for those who are looking for more of an exciting or thought-provoking mystery).
For Those Who Enjoyed
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
- What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah