Conversions

Gabriele Annan

  • No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klíma, translated by Gerald Turner
    Granta, 267 pp, £14.99, October 2001, ISBN 1 86207 448 8

A parable, says the OED, is ‘a fictitious narrative (usually about something that might naturally occur), by which moral or spiritual relations are typically set forth’. Klíma’s new novel fits the description exactly.

There are three main characters, who take it in turns to tell the story and do a lot of thinking about ‘moral or spiritual relations’, each in his or her own voice and idiom. The central one is a lonely, depressive woman called Kristýna. She might be one of Anita Brookner’s heroines, except that she is too beautiful. Klíma writes extremely well about women; and if he is not quite as subtle as Brookner, that may be because he is so very keen to put across his message, that what we all need is self-knowledge, humility and forgiveness. The first quality is preached by a wise psychiatrist (they are quite rare in fiction), and the other two by a Catholic priest, Father Kostka; he has no part in the story, but pops up occasionally as a patient in Kristýna’s surgery (she is a dentist). Like almost all the novel’s characters, he is most engaging.

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