Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers)

This book is bizarre.  It’s like a Grimm’s fairy tale with insane characters, or a cautionary tale with a moral that’s not a moral because it’s so nihilistic.  This, Canetti seems to be saying, is what happens if an intellectual dissociates from the real world and hears no voice other than his own.  He becomes dogmatic and he falls victim to the venality of the ignorant.  It’s sobering reading.
Elias Canetti was a Bulgarian-born Jew who spent most of his childhood in Germany and wrote in German, though he spent part of his life in England because of the Nazis (who banned his books).  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981 although Auto-da-fé (1935) is his only novel.  It’s on many to-read shelves at Good Reads and has provoked both enthusiastic reviews and dismissive comments, (the latter mostly from people who failed to finish it).
Set in Vienna and Paris, the story begins with a chance meeting between Professor Kien and a clever little boy.  The boy has inadvertently stood between Kien and his view of the books in a bookshop.  The professor goes for walks early in the morning before the bookshops open so that he won’t be tempted to buy any more – he already has a library of 25,000 books and anyway, the books in the bookshops are inferior and not worthy of him.
He himself was the owner of the most important private library in the whole of this great city. He carried a minute portion of it with him wherever he went. His passion for it, the only one which he had permitted himself during a life of austere and exacting study, moved him to take special precautions. Books, even bad ones, tempted him easily into making a purchase. Fortunately, the great number of the book shops did not open until after eight o’clock. (p11)
But still, he’s not happy to have his view obstructed.

I read and blogged this book on AUgust 21st, 2010.  To read the rest of my review, please visit

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© Read the NobelsMaira Gall