Waiting for the Barbarians


Mendelsohn suffers from no such confusion about what he brings to the table. And, again unlike Sontag, he is neither a partisan nor an enthusiast. Five-thousand-word love letters require a kind of wild passion that seems foreign to Mendelsohn’s coolly intelligent prose. When he trumpets Sokurov, or Stendhal, or the underappreciated novelist Antonio Muñoz Molina, he actually becomes something of a bore. Give him a flaw to diagnose, on the other hand, a strange blemish on a heretofore sterling surface—say, the new confusion evident in The Stranger’s Child about whether its author, Alan Hollinghurst, stands with “the ‘queer’ outsiders or the establishment”—and Mendelsohn will solve it with Sherlockian élan, giving his answer the satisfying structure of a Conan Doyle story. Mixed reviews, in other hands often as dull as ditchwater, become intellectual detective stories, and Mendelsohn provides illuminating, elegant solutions.

more from David Haglund at Bookforum here.