Herta Müller. The Fox was Ever the Hunter. Philip Boehm, tr. New York: Metropolitan Books. 2016. 237 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9302-5.
Occasionally, some of the reviews I’ve written get lost in the ether. I either forget that I’ve written them or they are not published on account of timeliness. There is also the possibility that I was just not happy with the writing. In any case, I frequently come upon files where I discover a review that slipped through the cracks. This is one of those reviews. I can’t recall why I didn’t publish this particular review, but if the writing is not up to snuff it is due to the reviewer’s negligence rather than the author of the reviewed book.
Herta Müller’s latest novel to be published in English, The Fox was Ever the Hunter, is actually an older novel that was first published in Germany in 1992. Like many of her Nobel Prize winning colleagues, her back catalogue is slowly making its way into English, and that is good for those wishing to experience this particular writer’s powerful prose. Like most of her novels, The Fox was Ever the Hunter takes place in Romania during the last months of Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime. The novel revolves around four characters, Adina, Clara, Paul, and Pavel. One of the four is working for the secret police and spying on the rest of the group.
The Fox was Ever the Hunter is a novel that plunges its reader into the dark labyrinth of paranoia and danger. There are no fairy tales when living under an oppressive regime, only nightmares. Yet, the scenes depicting the slow, systematic mutilation of Adina’s fox rug toward the end of the novel suggest that the specter of a fairy tale, however dark, looms over the narrative. It’s as if the characters are living in a world that has forgotten its roots in folklore and myth, and as a result, the citizens who inhabit the world of the novel find themselves trapped in an atmosphere of delusion. There is no security here, only the possibility of betrayal.
There is a profound sense of unease and bewilderment that pervades the novel, almost as if the narrator had trouble making up her mind on which story to tell us. This can be a bit disconcerting for readers not used to Müller’s style and subject matter. However, this narrative technique perfectly mirrors the atmosphere of the narrative. Like the characters inhabiting the novel, the reader feels he or she is missing something, that perhaps the whole story is not being told. This can be frustrating at first, but the reader will find a sense of gratification if he or she sticks it out to the end. Müller’s plot is not the most important aspect of the novel. As with most of her novels, plot gives way to the importance of the reader’s experience as one wanders around in its labyrinthine pages.
Most of us have never had to live under an oppressive political regime. The Fox was Ever the Hunter is a perfect introduction to what this nation might have been like during the Cold War. Moreover, now that the United States has entered into the truly bizarre land of Trump, The Fox was Ever the Hunter becomes that much more poignant. Philip Boehm’s translation of Müller’s prose is seamless and poetic, bridging a gap that could have easily caused problems for English speaking readers. Thankfully, Boehm’s translation provides us with a faithful echo of one the most striking voices writing today.