Olga Tokarczuk is a celebrated Polish writer and Man Booker International Prize winner. No wonder my IRL book group decided to read her work in January. And what a wintery, chilling book this is. Titled “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” it references works of William Blake throughout, including in the title itself.
Tokarczuk also writes a first-person, fictional account of a unique older woman’s life in rural Poland, near the Czech border. We don’t find out our main character’s name until we’ve read a good portion of the book. I’ll just follow the author’s lead and keep you in suspense. I suspected that this character was an unreliable narrator, because Tokarczuk writes everything from her perspective,
And she has singular perspective. She eats no meat, has only a few friends, and names everyone she knows based on their dominant characteristic. So, other characters are Big Foot, Oddball, Good News, etc. Our main character is an enigma wrapped in an astrological package, since astrology is her main hobby. And she never hesitates to give the neighborhood police a piece of her mind, especially while they’re trying to solve some unexplained nearby deaths.
This is an odd book, with an odd main character. She’s so strange that I couldn’t relate to her. In some books, an eccentric character becomes more lovable as the story progresses. In this case, I didn’t love her more, although I did start to understand the syncopated rhythm of her thought process.
Tokarczuk and her translator pull the story forward with little twists and creative asides. By the time I finished, I connected to the realities of life in that little town. I felt its intense isolation, and how that affects people’s personalities.
The extended sections about astrology were actually interesting to me. Our main character obsesses about the connection between stars in the sky and events on the ground. It makes her even more peculiar, while showing our universal human need to make sense of a confusing world.
As much as this book is considered a mystery, that element wasn’t a main focus for me. Yes, I wanted it to be solved. But Tokarczuk spent at least as much time on events and townspeople. She did finally tie it all together before the end, thankfully.
I recommend this if you like small-town mysteries with unique characters. Think Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher, transported to rural Poland.
Pair with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, for the astrological connections. Or with books with other eccentric female heroines like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.
p.s. I had to share my new fun bookish coffee mug. Isn’t it great?