THE ERL-KING

Michel Tournier At­lantic, £12.99

The Herald - Arts - - FRONT PAGE -

Also known as The Ogre, this is a pro­foundly un­set­tling novel from 1970 that fol­lows the twisted path of Abel Tif­fauges, a garage owner who ends up re­cruit­ing chil­dren to the Nazi cause. Hav­ing hurt his right hand, Tif­fauges finds his writ­ing with his left brings forth por­ten­tous, sin­is­ter screeds about how he is a mon­ster who “is­sued from the mists of time”. His writ­ings are like the kind of jour­nal you ex­pect se­rial killers to keep: fever­ish, ob­ses­sive, ex­press­ing a de­sire to pu­rify the world by turn­ing it up­side down. As a boy, Abel re­jected what his teach­ers set down for him, and chose his own pan­theon of he­roes, like Rasputin, Caligula and Pi­late. But his over­rid­ing ob­ses­sion is the state of grace that comes with shoul­der­ing the bur­dens of a child, like St Christo­pher car­ry­ing the Christ-child. As cap­ti­vat­ing as it is grotesque, The Erl-King is a se­ri­ous novel bristling with ideas that still has the power to dis­turb.

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