Novella a Day in May 2019 #15

The Blind Owl – Sadeq Hedayat (1937, trans. DP Costello 1957) 106 pages

This was a really challenging read, and though an astounding work, I was grateful for the novella length as it was tough to take.

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian writer and is considered an innovative titan of Persian literature; he’s a best-selling author in his home country. This novel was initially banned on publication, and according to Wiki there is still censorship of his work (I’ve not linked to the Wiki page because much to my horror there’s a picture of his dead body on it). Sadly, he died by suicide, and The Blind Owl certainly feels authentic in its portrayal of someone losing all sense of reality and suffering mental ill health. I’m giving this post a trigger warning for some pretty disturbing imagery in the third quote, although I’ve not picked the worst in the novella, I wanted to give a true sense of it.

“Will anyone ever penetrate the secret of this disease which transcends ordinary experience, this reverberation of the shadow of the mind, which manifests itself in a state of coma like that between death and resurrection, when one is neither asleep nor awake?”

The unnamed narrator earns his living by painting pen cases. He may or may not have killed someone:

“How could I have resisted it, I, an artist, shut up in a room with a dead body? The thought aroused in me a particular sensation of delight.”

It’s a disorienting narrative. It’s not clear what is true or false: the events described could be entirely in the man’s head and what The Blind Owl describes is him lying on his bed, thinking/hallucinating. It’s a stream of extremely disturbed consciousness. Images and events recur and shift slightly, adding to a sense of disorientation and being witness to someone’s spiralling thoughts.

“A sensation which had long been familiar to me was this: that I was slowly decomposing while I yet lived. My heart had always been at odds not only with my body but with my mind, and there was absolutely no compatibility between them. I had always been in a state of decomposition and gradual disintegration. At time I conceived thought which I myself felt to be inconceivable.”

The narrator has no compassion for humanity and this is what adds to making The Blind Owl such a tough read. He is misanthropic, and so the coldly related details of violence, dead bodies and decomposition are truly horrifying.

I don’t want to put people off reading The Blind Owl because it is truly a brilliant piece of writing, but definitely one for when you’re strong enough to take it, with a comforting escapist read lined up for afterwards.

“Am I a being separate and apart from the rest of creation? I do not know. But when I looked in the mirror a moment ago I did not recognise myself.”

15 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2019 #15

  1. I have ticked Iran off my challenge list (with The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar), so won’t be tempted to read this for that reason. I feel like I’ve read a string of ‘heavy’ books lately – including the multi-voiced and extremely violent A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James which I’m only a little way into – and think I need to make some lighter choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes it can go like that, can’t it – all the heavy reads come at once. You definitely should line up some light reads! I’ve got A Brief History of Seven Killings in the TBR but the violence means I keep putting it off – I’ll have to be brave one day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m intrigued to know how you came across this one? I’m not sure it’ll make it to my TBR but I’m always interested to hear of what’s been translated into English. That lack of compassion for humanity is tough to absorb and difficult to indulge knowingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one that I’d actually shortlisted for my Around the World list, but then bumped it in favour of something else. But your review has intrigued me – I’m not really put off by disturbing imagery if it’s well written and serves a purpose. I think I may need to do some more re-arranging and put it back on…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting isn’t it, when books are about really disturbing matters but they’re just such good reads, I seem to be coming across them more and more. This does sound good but I agree for the right day!

    Liked by 1 person

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