Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

At the opening of Olga Tokarczuk’s fascinating if ultimately frustrating novel, the narrative voice might be that of the nameless old woman at the heart—and “heart” is the word—of Samuel Beckett’s exquisite and deeply moving late work, Ill Seen Ill Said (1981); that in its closing pages Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) reads more like one of the Série Noire thrillers Beckett liked to relax with is not disastrous, but could well have been, in the hands of a lesser artist. Why Tokarczuk should have chosen to round off a narrative suffused with tragic mystery with a clumping “twist in the tail” dénouement that would embarrass Hercule Poirot is itself a mystery.

Tokarczuk is one of Poland’s most celebrated writers, whose novel Flights won the 2018 International Booker Prize. She is also something of a political and social activist, which is usually a worrying thing to hear of an artist—there are always fatalities at the bloody crossroads where politics and literature meet.