Adam Mars-Jones

Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights could almost be an inventory of the ways narrative can serve a writer short of, and beyond, telling a story. The book’s prose is a lucid medium in which narrative crystals grow to an ideal size, independent structures not disturbing the balance of the whole. Thirty pages seems to be the maximum dimension for her purposes – only one story element goes beyond that length, and is split in two, with one instalment in each half of the book. This is an episode, rather reminiscent of Antonioni’s L’Avventura, in which a woman on holiday mysteriously disappears from an island (along with her three-year-old son). The island in Antonioni’s film was uninhabited, while here it is a tourist destination in Croatia, every part of it known and explored, so there is no rational possibility of misadventure, as the locals and the police keep assuring her husband, Kunicki. At the police station he is offered beer, ‘as though the officers hope to hide their helplessness beneath that white foam’.

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