Book Review: Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski

Entanglement Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski; translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Entanglement combines three of my favourite elements in a novel: a strong sense of place, a realistic criminal investigation, and psychotherapy. I liked it very much indeed, not least because of the faultless translation, including puns and other running black humour – an example:

“Is it long since you divorced?”
“No, not long, a year ago. And not so much divorced, as separated. We didn’t go to court. But now perhaps we’ll manage to botch it all up again”.
“Sorry?”
“Sorry what?”
“You said “botch it all up again”.
“Oh, of course, I meant patch it all up.”…..

And later: “I’m dread sure it’s because her father abused her as a child.”..

Not an easy task for a translator to make these little jokes work without making it seem forced, but Antonia Lloyd-Jones does a wonderful job here.

The main plot concerns the investigation of an apparent murder that has taken place in a converted Warsaw church during a weekend retreat in which four clients and a psychotherapist undergo “constellation therapy”, explained in fascinating style in the novel. The victim, Henryk Telak, was very depressed and for good reason,  to the extent that his death by suicide would have been accepted by his doctor and, probably, the authorities. However, Telak clearly did not commit suicide, so Teodor Szacki, a State Prosecutor, gets the case. In Poland, the prosecutor directs the police investigation and prepares the case for court, so most of the book concerns Szacki’s continually frustrated attempts to find out who killed Telak, and why. There are oodles of atmosphere as he struggles to make progress, both in his own office concerning his less than attractive boss and attempts of a careerist colleague to add a drugs case to his already groaning workload, and at home, in his stale relationship with his wife of 10 years, Weronika, and their 7-year-old daughter, Helka. 

Reading the novel, one is immersed in Szacki’s life as the story is told through the perspective of his thoughts: his worries about money, what it’s like living in Warsaw in 2005 (when the novel is set), the history of his marriage and his attraction to a young journalist  - who reciprocates his interest with alacrity. And, of course, his insistence on keeping the case on track – pressuring his irascible friend Oleg Kuzniecow, in charge of the police side of the investigation, to follow up increasingly tenuous leads that Szacki feels will eventually unravel the degrees of entanglement in this puzzling conundrum, much to Oleg’s disgust given that he, too, is overwhelmed, underpaid, and under pressures of his own. 

I was completely absorbed in the novel – even though I didn’t sympathise too much with Szacki’s actions concerning his lust for a younger woman, it is easy to see how two people can be ground down after a relationship of more than 20 years in which familiarity has replaced excitement. Both partners have demanding careers, need to look after their child responsibly, and despite their professional jobs are unable to afford a reasonable place to live and many basic luxuries such as decent coffee or the sort of birthday party the girl would like. One of the aspects I loved was Szacki’s constant worrying about the case, and his drive as well as willingness to enter fully into psychotherapeutic theories and principles to arrive at an understanding of the dynamics of what happened between the five people present in the fatal weekend that began the novel, in order to travel towards an understanding of what happened and why. 

As the book nears the end, Szacki gets closer to discovering what happened, which necessitates investigating events from 25 years ago, before the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Although the author is very strong at conveying the social and historical context of these events, and what it is like to live through them, I think he’s less strong at weaving them into the specific plot. I found Szacki’s Agatha Christie-like exercise at the book’s climax, as well as his encounter in an Italian restaurant, to be not as authentic as the story up to that point, and slightly wished he’d got to his solution by another route, as I think the climax of the book, while perfectly logical, loses its emotional punch a bit as a result.

Nevertheless, this book is superb. It’s gripping as well as remarkably interesting and thought-provoking, in particular in its descriptions of the roles of children in families, as well as in the internal life of Szacki and his relationship with his environment – he's not entirely a likeable person but an admirable one, honest and committed, not always able to predict the emotional consequences to himself of his own actions. There are a couple of recommendations for further reading at the end of the novel which I might well follow up. In the words of Bert Hellinger, the author of one of these books, “No-one is evil, just entangled”. Not least Szacki himself, so I hope we find out more about his future one day fairly soon.
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I read this book as a direct result of reading an excellent review of it at International Noir Fiction, by Glenn Harper. Thank you for the recommendation, Glenn, Entanglement is a great read.
See also Simon Clarke's brief Amazon review, and a longer review at Blogcritics.

Entanglement is published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press. From the publisher's website: Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a well known translator from the Polish having published translations of of works of fiction such as 'Castorp' and 'Mercedes-Benz' by Pawel Huelle and celebrated non-fiction, including 'The Other' by Ryszard Kapusciński.
(Note, the l of Miloszewski should have a diagonal line through it, in the direction of an acute accent.)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski

  1. Maxine – Oh, this does sound like a wonderful read! I’m always especially drawn to books like that, though, with a really believable investigation and a strong sense of character. The wit appeals to me, too; I think it’s the linguist in me….. Thanks for (yet) another addition to my TBR list ; ).

  2. Thanks for your (as ever) delightful comment, Margot! I did enjoy this novel, so hope it gets the wider audience it deserves.

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