Saturday 12 August 2017

The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse by Ivan Repila  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
"'It looks impossible to get out,' he says. And also: 'But we’ll get out.'” This is a compellingly unpleasant little book. Two brothers, Big and Small, are trapped down a well in the forest. Calling, climbing and leaping are to no avail. As the days pass (the chapters are numbered with a sequence of prime numbers), we witness (and are spared no detail of) the brothers’ desperation, their physical and mental decline, their diet of worms and maggots (they will not touch the bag of food belonging to their mother), their suffering from both thirst and flooding, the cruelty and tenderness that constitute their deformed relationship. “Life is wonderful, but living is unbearable.” Repila never softens the violence of his language or assuages the discomfort we feel reading of the brothers’ dismal life. When the brothers catch a bird, they fear their shrunken stomachs may not be able to cope with the meat and so let it putrefy as a breeding ground for maggots. Big eats most of the food and deforms his muscles with a sequence of exercises, forcing Small to grow still lighter. At the point of giving up and dying, the brothers enact the revenge they have been preparing - it is not by accident that they are trapped down the well - but it is a revenge that comes at a horrible cost. The book is allegorical on a number of levels, and the epigraphs from Bertold Brecht and Margaret Thatcher (!) underscore the reading of the physical, mental and social harm of economic inequality, especially for those stuck at the bottom (dependent on the ‘trickle down effect' perhaps), and of the mutually destructive revenge that will be enacted when the effects of inequality ultimately become desperate.

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