Market forces


Andrzej Stasiuk<br /><em>Harvill Secker, 230pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 0436206

Set in post-communist Warsaw, this cheerless novel begins when a down-at-heel underwear exporter wakes to find his flat wrecked: a debt-collection notice for £3,500 of arrears. To raise cash, Pawel turns to old acquaintances now caught up in the city's heroin trade, where the prospect of score-settling violence is never far away.

Nine is an "existential crime novel", according to the publishers. Don't expect a thriller, they
mean: any momentum from the suspense-filled opening vanishes soon after the first of Pawel's
many reveries, as he dwells on a romanticised communist past when "no one yet imagined that commerce would save the world". Thoughts of his factory-worker father clocking in day after day make Pawel's life as a free-market entrepreneur – that is, to spend a lifetime in hock to unscrupulous creditors – seem no freedom at all.

It's a bitter, sullen tale, in which even passing extras don't get off lightly: watching an old man being driven by his son, the world-weary narrator tells us that "they'll be hit by a lorry . . . the father will survive, but the rest of his days will be poisoned by guilt". Combined with a frustrating style, which contrives unwarranted mystery from personal pronouns, Nine's excess of misery rather blunts the edge to its attack on capitalism.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The Brown revolution begins