It’s a busy, beautiful vexation, this novel, a quiver full of fables of pilgrims and pilgrimages ... The narrator, coolly evasive in the way of Rachel Cusk’s heroine in the Outline trilogy, relishes how travel and growing older allow her to become invisible ... Interspersed with the narrator’s journey is a constellation of discrete stories that share rhyming motifs and certain turns of phrase. These vignettes often have the flavor of case studies ... Shaggy maximalism is the ethic and aesthetic of Flights. It is thronged with plots and subplots ... it feels impossible to connect to characters no sooner conjured than whisked away and replaced. Monotony settles in; we read at a remove, which feels cruel given that Tokarczuk’s aim is so clearly to train the eye to see more deeply ... Still, as plots ramify and the cast grows, the individual vignettes are themselves sculpted, and anchoring. In Jennifer Croft’s assured translation, each self-enclosed account is tightly conceived and elegantly modulated, the language balletic, unforced. And Tokarczuk has a canny knack for reading the reader, for anticipating your criticisms.
It is a novel of intuitions as much as ideas, a cacophony of voices and stories seemingly unconnected across time and space, which meander between the profound and the facetious, the mysterious and the ordinary, and whose true register remains one of glorious ambiguity ... Flights has echoes of WG Sebald, Milan Kundera, Danilo Kiš and Dubravka Ugrešić, but Tokarczuk inhabits a rebellious, playful register very much her own ... Flights is a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness.
Flights, by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (Riverhead), is exciting in the way that unclassifiable things are exciting—that is to say, at times confoundingly so. It is intermittently a work of fiction, but it is also an exercise in theory, cultural anthropology, and memoir ... Those sections saturated in the author’s Polishness are the most poignant and meaningful in the book. The cabinet of curiosities, glittering with all kinds of marvels, is just to be browsed; the travelling reader moves through it and past it. But, like the author, we snag on that Polish word, and its suggestion of cold oilcloth, garden tomatoes, and stove fumes. Such episodes deliberately complicate the book’s exaltation of mobility and its freedoms.
...[a] rich sequence of anecdote, observation, wry aside, personal reflection, extended narrative, and intense speculation about the shape of our world and its future ... Tokarczuk is one of Europe’s most daring and original writers, and this astonishing performance is her glittering, bravura entry in the literature of ideas ... Very early in this wise, observant, and whimsical book, it becomes clear that the reader has found the ideal travel companion ... Flights shifts and shimmers. Its obsessive characters speak in captivating, distinct voices ... an international, mercurial, and always generous book, to be endlessly revisited.
...The book’s prose is a lucid medium in which narrative crystals grow to an ideal size, independent structures not disturbing the balance of the whole ... Flights might be written in the spirit of that refusenik lab rat, fleeing the constrictions of conventional fiction-writing ... Much of the pleasure of reading Flights comes from the essay clusters embedded between sections of narrative ... Tokarczuk is attracted to neatness and compression...but she stays reliably on the right side of aphoristic patness ... Jennifer Croft’s translation is exceptionally adventurous.
Tokarczuk reads like a more cerebral W.G. Sebald in this work: Whereas what lingers of Sebald’s works are the emotions he conjures up, what lingers of Tokarczuk are her ideas ... She has been obsessed with Carl Jung...whose concept of the collective unconscious likely contributes to her characters’ mirroring of each other. Even more interesting than that, though, is the possibility that they mirror not just each other but also the protagonist ... bizarre but also incredibly moving because, as the best of literature so often does, it makes the familiar strange again.
...ambitious and complex ... Though some of the narrator’s observations on traveling are interesting, the real pleasures of Flights are in the digressions and stories she intersperses throughout. Operating with enviable confidence, Tokarczuk shifts effortlessly within the space of four pages from an art museum to a commentary on the social invisibility of middle-aged women ... Readers looking for these stories to reach a neat conclusion may be disappointed. Tokarczuk shows little interest in tying off loose ends or explaining how the pieces fit together. The disconnectedness is part of the point ... I’m afraid that all this talk of existential philosophy may give a false sense of the novel’s tone. It moves briskly, buoyed by a sense of humor that is sometimes dark but often joyful ... Hers is an optimistic, generous voice that just happens to have some morbid fascinations. The act of discovery enlivens her, as well as the text.
With keen observation and wit, Flights takes us from airports around the world where academics give mini lectures to museums that house 'freaks' of nature ... Flights follows an associative logic akin to poetry, employing images and patterns to thread together different characters and situations, despite shifts in time and place ... Because of these patterns, Flights is a novel that teaches us how to read it while we are reading it ... By absorbing and refracting genres such as theory and autobiography through the structure of the scene and the situation itself, Tokarczuk achieves integrity to the process of storytelling and travelling. These fragments seamlessly shift from first-person narration to third-person points of view ... Flights coheres because of the voice of its narrator: an unassuming, humorous, and curious voice, ever willing to change and bring the world into its own palimpsest of worlds.
...it is rare to be genuinely baffled by a description. Yet Flights manages to baffle, to make you scratch your head and try to find the proper words for it ... Flights functions more like a cabinet of curiosities, the kind which served as a precursor to natural history museums ... Flights is like opening drawer after drawer and discovering similar treasures ... Consuming it at a more leisurely pace is the trick. It's a journey without a destination, and this will naturally frustrate the reader who demands Story, who adores linearity. But for those who like traveling beyond the edges of the map, Flights could do the trick.
There are snippets about airports, passengers, guidebooks, foreign hotels and airsickness bags; nuggets of history and snapshots of countries ... Some sections amount to fleeting sketches or inconsequential squibs; others go on too long. Those that work provide food for thought about what makes us move and what makes us tick. Jennifer Croft deserves credit for expertly translating Tokarczuk’s singular ideas and original imagery ... Flights is a unique reading experience, but it also can be a demanding one. However, perseverance pays huge dividends. Travel may broaden the mind, but this travel-themed book stimulates it.
Tokarczuk’s approach is precise: every detail, from flight times to the labels on travel toiletries, is accounted for ... Each narrative is preserved in the separate bell-jar of an individual journey, and yet the book’s toggling between centuries never feels jarring. Tokarczuk’s dry prose works to bind these fragments together, pervading the book like a quiet, unobtrusive hum ... Travel writing usually presents a linear narrative—asdepartures and returns easily correspond with beginnings and endings. But Tokarczuk complicates this. Her characters, like the book’s episodic structure, resist neat demarcations ... The book is like a map: including disparate parts not because they cause or connect to each other, but because their contours help clarify a wider, impersonal whole. In this way, Tokarczuk shows that even the loneliest traveler fits into a bigger scheme.
[Tokarczuk] seems to pour the contents of her incandescent mind onto the page; an endless, only tenuously connected series of synaptic flashes and sparks ... Taken all together, Flights has the quality of a dream, in both the best and most maddening sense; you almost feel as if you have to bend your brain sideways to follow its trail ... when her prose lifts off, it’s magical: electrifying, strange, and sensationally alive.
Flights is a dazzling novel, cerebral and emotional, thought-provoking and moving, intellectually rigorous but completely accessible ... The novel is discursive and divergent, shifting seamlessly from the narrator’s thoughts and actions into fragments and glimpses of narrative, blurring the line between the internal and external worlds, between fiction and non-fiction, between experience and invention, never giving primacy to one or the other ... It is truly remarkable: a book predicated on the solitariness of travel becoming something so inclusive, so revealing of the bonds we glimpse only in passing, in motion, but which moor us to the world, even when our roots refuse to take hold.
...a constellation novel of over one hundred story fragments ... Through this unorthodox structure, Flights gives a form to motion ... A book like that, like Flights, is something new every time you come to it. It shifts its face, opens up an altered way of seeing, keeps your thoughts in motion ... And so, rather than ending, the book thrusts forward, closing on a scene of someone’s travels beginning.
Tokarczuk’s world, travel should always return you a little different from how you set out. Though the connections between sections can sometimes feel choppy, Tokarczuk’s voice comes through as both confident and confiding, often knowing and surprisingly witty, in Croft’s elegant translation. Though the novel might not be for everyone, Flights is a fine introduction to a major European author, especially for those interested in contemporary or experimental fiction.
Characters are drawn to precision, the concept of specimens, and macabre anomalies. Tokarczuk’s tales vary in length and are complex and layered, forming an exploration into the impermanence of existence and experience.
It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives...This is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice ... Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor ... A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.
...an indisputable masterpiece of 'controlled psychosis,' as one of the characters phrases it ... Punctuated by maps and figures, the discursive novel is reminiscent of the work of Sebald. The threads ultimately converge in a remarkable way, making this an extraordinary accomplishment.