It has become official; I am on a Klavan kick. I have now read 4-5 of his books, which are all well put together and enjoyable. Some are better than others, of course. The Identity Man was good, Corruption was just ok. The Uncanny was quite fun, as was Hunting Down Amanda, the first unpredictable and the second predictable, but both very enjoyable nonetheless. However, there is this one that I have found to be excellent literature. I don’t think it falls for certain in any genre, but I suppose it would be classified psychological thriller perhaps. Agnes Mallory, I think, should, and perhaps will be remembered as an actual classic. A book whose content, storytelling, plot are so captivating, so well done: a book whose philosophy strikes so true, that it is can stand the test of time.
The narrator of Agnes is a loathsome man, Harry, who had been a relatively typical boy when he actually knew the eponymous Agnes (who is Agnes Sole as a child). As one reads the book, you are ‘treated’ to the present day Harry, a man whose respectable outer shell has been removed, who has collapsed in on his own depravities as a recluse. You also get glimmers of the past, when as a child, Harry spent time with Agnes.
As I mentioned before, the narrator (and dare I say, the main character) is an ‘inner man’. He has many characteristics of Dostoevsky’s ‘Underground Man’ (Found as the nameless main character and narrator in Notes From Underground: a chillingly accurate look at the nature of man.) He is entirely self-absorbed, he is petty. He is… unmasked. In all too much of modern writing and movies, the false facade that people put up is considered the worst part of a person which is based upon the idea that societies constraints make a person untrue to themselves. This last is, perhaps ironically, true. The true nature of the man without the socially enforced facade of kindness, selflessness, and forbearance restraining the ‘inner man’ is one entirely consumed by corruption and petty, or not so petty, evil.
The other very important person is Agnes (of course). Agnes is a brilliant sculptor, and also, well, crazy. The book does not give reasons for her insanity, but instead shows glimpses of shadows of reasons. I believe that Agnes is crazy because she cannot reconcile the greatness of mankind with its utter depravity. (Seen in the contradiction between the art of the West and Auschwitz.)
In the end, Harry is unable to save Agnes, and the books real power comes with the realization that even if Harry had been a good an, even if he had not been incessantly thinking of sex, and the repercussions of his moral and political corruption, he would not have been able to save Agnes. In fact, no man or woman could have done so.
I do not want to talk at all about the plot in any more detail than this, the book deserves to be read and found afresh, without someone else’s imprint. Agnes Mallory is spooky, is unpredictable, and beautiful in the paradoxical, sad, beaten, and yet still glorious fashion that depicts so well the state of man: simultaneously made in God’s image and cravenly fallen. The book is worth the time and worth incomparably more than the money. Give it a read (or two) sometime.