One of Poland’s most imaginative and lyrical writers, Olga Tokarczuk presents us with a detective story with a twist in DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD. After her two dogs go missing and members of the local hunting club are found murdered, teacher and animal rights activist Janina Duszejko becomes involved in the ensuing investigation. Part magic realism, part detective story, DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD is suspenseful and entertaining reimagining of the genre interwoven with poignant and insightful commentaries on our perceptions of madness, marginalised people and animal rights.
On the surface this is a murder mystery. Very little delving reveals layers of social commentary.
The narrator is a woman in her 60’s, Mrs Duszejko, a teacher of English at the local school in a rural Polish setting near the Czech border. She also caretakes the empty houses of the seasonal visitors to the area and translates William Blake in her spare time. She is also passionate about animal rights and an enthusiastic amateur astrologist, although her methodology and accuracy are very questionable. After the murders of three hunters she attempts to insert herself into the investigations by writing letters to the police, theorising that the victims were all killed by animals as revenge for the animals they hunted and backing her claims with her astrology findings.
I have to say that I initially found everything confusing. Was there some credibility to her claims? Where were her Little Girls? Was she hiding something? … Was the narrator merely eccentric or completely mad?
The beautiful writing kept me reading, as well as a developing affection for this very odd woman.
“With his help, the tree trunks revealed their secrets to me. The most ordinary stumps turned out to be entire kingdoms of Creatures that bored corridors and passages, and laid their precious eggs there. The larvae may not have been beautiful, but I was moved by their sense of trust – they entrusted their lives to the trees, without imagining that these huge, immobile Creatures are essentially very fragile, and wholly dependent on the will of people too.”
Slowly but surely the story started coming together. I guessed a good part of the reveal, but by then it didn’t matter because the telling was so clever and darkly humorous and slyly perceptive that I just wanted to keep reading right to the very satisfying end.