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This review is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

ROMPING GROTESQUERY Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Execution of Justice, translated from the German by John E. Woods (Cape) £12.95.
Yuz Aleshkovsky, Kangaroo, translated from the Russian by Tamara Glenny (Faber) £10.99.

Justice and the perversion of justice is one of the great subjects. At the heart of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy, it points up the relations of Man and his gods. With the Enlightenment the emphasis shifts to Man and his society. And in our own century, as Durrenmatt and Aleshkovsky make amply plain, the very concept has become an excuse for romping grotesquery. In a world of relativism and absurdity, who shall establish right and wrong, and who shall judge? The century's major interpretations of justice, in fact or in fiction, are notable for their perversity, from Stalin's show trials to Durrenmatt's play The Visit.

The origins of The Execution of Justice lie in Durrenmatt's 1950's, when he wrote detective entertainments between plays. The novel remained un-finished, and subsequent attempts to complete it came to nothing until in 1985 he revised the existing text, added a thirty-page third part written in his own (albeit fictionalized) person, and published the book along with a confession that he had no longer had any idea how he'd originally wanted it to end. Critics who revel in the contingency of the fictional construct will have a field day with the rather higgledy-piggledy novel that resulted.

"Murder is negative creation," wrote Auden in his essay on the detective novel in The Dyer's Hand, "and every murderer is therefore the rebel who claims the right to be omnipotent." Dr. Isaak Kohler of Zurich casually shoots a professor friend at dinner, and ...


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