A cinematographic novel about the intensity of perception, set in early 20th-century USA
In the space of forty years, J. Bernlef has built up an impressive oeuvre. His final breakthrough came with the novel Hersenschimmen (Out of Mind), in which he describes the process of decline in an ageing man, whose consciousness is slowly ebbing away into dementia. Especially impressive are the descriptions of the changes that occur in the man’s linguistic ability, a theme that Bernlef elaborated on in the novella, Eclipse (1994).
Loss of perceptive powers is an important theme in Bernlef’s work. His acute observations and the precise, matter-of-fact style with which he illustrates his characters’ – often unusual – perspective of the world are crucial to this theme. His most recent novel, Boy, which takes place in early twentieth-century America is no exception. The hero of the book is a deaf and dumb boy whom the police find in a hotel room alongside the murdered singer, Norma. Although it is unclear what Boy is doing there, where he came from or what his motive might be, he is arrested as the culprit and sentenced to death. A reporter from the local newspaper, William Stevens, gets interested in the case and begins a quest to discover the truth behind the mystery of Boy and Norma.
Set in the era of the growth of mass media at the beginning of the last century, Boy is not just a thrilling story, but primarily a study of the perception of reality. In that respect, Boy is a character from the silent movies, whose silent presence is interpreted by everyone in their own way. The journalist manages to find out who Boy actually was. At the same time, this revelation grants him access to another, more sensual world of experiences.