...eloquently translated ... Wry and kindly, funny, angry, informed and intent on the truth, no voice is quite as blisteringly beautiful as that of Drndic ... E.E.G., referencing a brain scan that reflects the ways in which she excavates memory, offers a vital and concluding chapter to Belladonna.
None of Drndić’s five translated novels resembles anything that passes for political fiction today, at least not among English-language novels. To place her, we must look backward ... Part of the novel’s umbilical form lies in how Drndić imports entire episodes from her earlier novels into EEG, creating, within it, memories that are capable of simultaneously standing on their own and nesting into a larger literary space, like a set of Russian dolls ... EEG continues to refuse any form that absorbs the novel’s assorted parts—the long digressions into the history of chess in Nazi Germany, the files of psychiatric patients, the biographies of Latvian SS collaborators—into a complete and self-contained whole.
The complex narrative tapestry is a marvel. However, the fictional characters don’t come to life all that much: there are very few scenes with dialogue and anything resembling suspense. It’s the history so thoroughly researched, documented, and commented upon vitriolically and wittily that makes the most gripping pages here ... With Drndić, I am tempted to skim through the passages about the protagonist to get to the astonishing history, which reads like a collective noir ... I am impressed with how Celia Hawkesworth has managed to translate these long sentences with ease and grace ... she writes expertly about people who have a difficult and painful story ... We are reading an energetic mind, and partly the title fits here — it is an electric encephalogram of a mind at work, looking for enflamed spots in the brain, in memory, in time. Her writing is acerbic ... Sure, narratively EEG is imperfect, and it satisfies Henry James’s characterization of the novel as a large, loose, baggy monster. But reading it is as educational and exciting as a guided tour of hell, to borrow Francine Prose’s title.
Throughout EEG...petty concerns sit alongside metaphysical ones ... [protagonist] Ban shifts seamlessly from meditating on the subject of time...to griping about a waiter’s refusal to put ice in his drink. These juxtapositions are endearingly jarring, and his displays of everyday crankiness provide an appropriately sour humor to cut the novel’s otherwise unrelenting seriousness ... EEG stutters between personal reflection and historical intermission, with neither mode nor any single narrative thread predominating. She maneuvers from Ban’s recollections of his family to his meditations on memory to historical catalogs of tragedy. This last element, the most direct expression of her aesthetic interest in archives, will be familiar to readers of her previous books ... For Drndić, aesthetic neatness is an affront to reality, while fragmentation reflects the truth. Accosting the reader on this subject becomes a powerful and sly way of asking: Do you like being lied to? If the messiness of my book doesn’t suit your sensibilities, what of the messiness of the world? ... her prose is for the most part gnarled, knotty, tangled—ugly in a manner appropriate to her assessment of history’s structure and the world’s bleakness. But moments of beauty do break through.
If we are to follow the pessimistic artist into his annihilating vision, a little poetry goes a long way. The Croatian novelist Daša Drndić, who died of lung cancer last June, gives her readers no such poetry. She would have us take our medicine straight ... The materiality of the past—its shocking, sickening thingness—suffuses Drndić’s fictions. Every dusty record, every banal household object, represents an intricate network of unknown relations capable of arousing melancholy or horror. The inadequacy of memory is perhaps her great subject ... the highest distinction of pessimistic fiction is that it undermines its own project. As we do from the desolate, God-baiting novels of Hardy, the gaunt dramas of Beckett, or the post-national horror of late Bolaño, we emerge from Drndić’s writing feeling both vanquished and invigorated. Such formidable intelligence and Homeric intention cannot help but thrill and exalt.
If, as Ban says, 'wars are an orgy of forgetting', then Drndić’s is a mission of restitution: to restore the humanity – if only, in some instances, by the magic of their names – to individuals whose stories have been lost ... if 'fierce meandering' is possible, that’s the tenor of this text. The prose is sometimes pretty dire, verging on nonsensical. This is not the fault of Celia Hawkesworth, the delicacy of whose translation is elsewhere evident. Rather, it’s as if Drndić were writing at such speed that she couldn’t take time to reread her sentences ... E.E.G. reveals Drndić as a writer and thinker of ever greater relevance, a voice whose wide-ranging screeds we ignore at our peril. This book is not, however, an achieved literary or artistic artifact: incontinent, ill shaped (or unshaped) and shoddily written, it’s often tough sledding.
Drndić moves beyond a stream of consciousness to capture thought processes in interaction with the written word. Her method is to amass 'fragments' of contemporary material: the descriptive power resides in its selection and omissions ... Her incisive skill and radical style render potentially grim reading compulsive. She was a voice of – and for – our times.
As its title may suggest, the novel is structured somewhat like a scan of [Ban's] brain activity, which is to say that it’s associative, looping, digressive: thrilling and deliberately infuriating in equal measure. By the same token, it’s also, like several of Drndić’s other books, an experiment in how much of the horrific twentieth century one work of fiction can swallow without breaking apart ... the force of Ban’s anger and the leaping, unexpected connections he draws are exhilarating, restoring the reality of all those cutoff lives, along with the reader’s capacity to take in the scale of complicity involved—from the CIA’s harboring of Nazi war criminals to the tawdry record of Croat nationalism—and to register history’s shocks anew. EEG is a monument against the common notion that political convictions soften with age, as you learn to let the world off the hook. Neither Drndić nor her books did any such thing.
EEG is sprawling and unwieldy, with sections that are intense in their focus but the narrative then shifting, often entirely elsewhere. A loose web of connections does help hold the larger narrative together ... for all its seemingly unstructured sprawl EEG isn't really messy; it isn't even hard to read or follow ... Ban—and Drndić's—passion make for a powerful book; EEG is, despite its seeming disarray, a riveting, provocative read.
Drndić’s sentences are stubborn, direct, functional as doorstops, though when she lets a thought swing wide on its hinge, it can sweep a hyperbolic arc ... The novel’s self-proclaimed aloofness to ordinary literary pleasures ignores the power of its own exaggerated, allusive imagery ... Wonderfully, EEG’s metafictional antics and tragicomic rage manage to undermine its own literary pessimism, reaffirming for even the most disaffected reader a conviction in empathy, knavery, and unlikely beauty; in the human capacity to accept, in the form of a book, a gift.
The 20th century is revealed as a parade of horrors in this harrowing novel from Drndić ... Drndić’s defiance of narrative continuity allows the novel to flow freely from [Ban's] personal remembrances to historical catastrophe. This is an intense, sometimes riveting novel.