The Lamentations of Zeno by Ilija Trojanow

Review published on December 25, 2017.

Despite an oft-proclaimed hatred for cold weather – particularly that horrible, traffic-causing, sludge-inducing white stuff – I have accidentally read several snow-set novels this year, and The Lamentations of Zeno is one of the most compelling of its type. Using the perspective of Zeno Hintermeier, a scientist working on an Antarctic cruise ship, it’s a fascinating study of obsession and humankind’s impact on our environment.

Once an impassioned, idealistic glaciologist, Zeno now finds himself guiding the idle rich around his beloved landscape, ever more frustrated by their disregard for what he prizes above all else. As the initially confusing narrative unfolds, we see the impact of Zeno’s single-minded approach to his work on his marriage as well as his own state of mind; Trojanow does not shy away from perplexing the reader with some narrative oddities, which ultimately pay off in a hugely satisfactory way.

I initially found this book quite difficult to get into, failing at the outset to fully appreciate Zeno’s voice and character. It’s only a short novel (159 pages) so it was lucky that this disconnect evaporated as I came to appreciate Zeno’s quest and like him as a character. He’s certainly a rather odd creation, but his unrelenting focus on preserving the environment with which he feels such a strong connection is palpable, as well as hugely topical in these times of such intense discussion of climate change.

I’d definitely recommend this peculiar book. It’s challenging at times but never less than compelling.

Katy Goodwin-Bates 3/4

The Lamentations of Zeno by Ilija Trojanow
Verso Books 9781784782191 hbk May 2017

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