In a college Philosophy and Literature class, which focused on 20th century existentialism, I got hooked on Camus, Sartre, and Kafka. So when I saw Polish author Andrzej Bursa's novel Killing Auntie compared to Sartre and Kafka, as well as to Dostoevsky and Joseph Heller, I thought I'd check it out. Let's just say that one way to be disappointed in a book is to begin reading it with exalted expectations.
Killing Auntie begins with Jurek confessing to a priest that he has killed his aunt. He thoughtlessly, purposelessly, spontaneously decides to beat her over the head with a hammer. The rest of the book deals with the aftermath: scheming to cover up the crime, to prevent his other aunt and grandmother from discovering his deed, dealing with a new romance, and, mostly, disposing of the corpse.
The tone of the story and the attitude that Jurek conveys is reminiscent of a character from Kafka or Camus. The phrase "the banality of evil" comes to mind. Jurek has no real ethical moorings from which to reflect on his act. The confession doesn't seem to be meaningful, except to highlight the titillation of the priest experiences upon hearing about a real crime in his confessional. Jurek does realize that others will view his act as repulsive, thus his reluctance to tell his girlfriend about it and his attempts to his the corpse from his aunt and grandmother.
I think Bursa was attempting to pen a reflection on the evil in all our lives. He makes in explicit in his defense to his girlfriend: "I wouldn't blame you [if you are offended by my confession], just like I wouldn't blame anyone for anything, and not because I don't . . . have the right, but because I'm not convinced there is such a right. I think ... simply ... that we are all guilty." Ah, the existential bliss of amorality. We are all guilty, therefore none of us is guilty.
The philosophical message comes through to a certain degree. I just wish he could have wrapped up the story more effectively. The last couple of chapters were quite a disappointment. So, bottom line, in terms of style and substance, Killing Auntie might be compared to The Stranger or some of Kafka's work, but it falls short of the literary and philosophical standard set by those works.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!