‘The Lamentations of Zeno’ is a novel of ice, art, and humanity. Written by Ilja Trojanow and published by Verso Books, it adds a new dimension to the discussion of climate change.
Zeno Hintermeier is not a likeable character. He’s a misanthropic, vaguely misogynistic, generally maddened old man – and I absolutely love it. He is exactly the character you need for fiction like this, I think. The other characters complain about him being preach-y, but I don’t think he is at all. He adds a very personal element to eco-novels: while we do see the general collapse of the Arctic, we also focus on his personal collapse. He and the ice are one and the same, which absolutely fascinated me. Without giving too much away, I think that the novel also created an interesting space to talk about eco-terrorism, which I would love to explore further.
The novel is quite modernist. There are wonderful pieces of stream of consciousness which skims over the thoughts of every passenger on the Arctic cruise. Not only is it well-written, but this is technically where the action/climax of the novel occurs. I really liked this, as it allowed the main passages of the novel to really dig into Zeno’s thoughts and experiences, whilst still maintaining suspense. I could see how a reader might find this annoying – we don’t actually get to see the climax of the story! – but I enjoyed this very much.
As I mentioned, this is stunningly well-written. From the offset the cold and the ice seem to permeate every aspect of the novel. I would not have thought that this was Trojanow’s first novel, as it was so well constructed. Furthermore, Zeno’s inner voice was at times absolutely spot-on. I particularly enjoyed the various grumblings about tourists, and how annoying they can be. As someone who used to live in a popular tourist destination, I thought his observations were hilariously astute.
If you’re passionate about the environment, read this. If you’re not, you should probably read it anyway.