Homo Idioticus

Radek Wysocki
Homo Idioticus
  • Wydawnictwo Literackie
    Kraków 2004
    308 pages
    ISBN 83-08-03596-5

The plot of this excellent first novel by Radek Wysocki is not exactly feeble. With council elections approaching, a group of local politicians wants to close down the city zoo. This definitely won’t appeal to the voters, so the councillors form a conspiracy. It looks as if the zoo’s director, a debauched alcoholic called Mich, is going to be their ally, and will hand over the keys to the conspirators himself. But he has his own plan for saving the provincial zoo: he wants to lock a human being in a cage (“a species under threat of extinction”). Predictably, this particular exhibit is supposed to pull in the crowds. A fellow called Maurycy Tymowski volunteers for the job he’s a writer and doctor of philosophy, whose lawyer has cunningly got him out of prison, where he was serving a sentence for killing his wife.

By reconstructing the plot like that, I have inevitably implied that the story follows a realistic sequence of events, but in fact it doesn’t. Any connection with non-literary reality is purely symbolic and not really necessary. In this novel the world of make-believe takes precedence. The events and characters grotesque caricatures to the last man are caught up in a whirl of nonsense, where the ever-present absurdity is scathing and obscene. It’s heavy-duty comedy, a mixture of venomous malice and sometimes rather tasteless frivolity. The whole thing is written in the spirit of Witkacy. We haven’t had anything like this in Polish fiction for a long time, i.e. anything so crazy and original.

Wysocki spends three hundred pages on what might well be the most obvious old hat anyone could possibly spout about man i.e. that he was wrong to call himself homo sapiens, when at every step since time immemorial he has contradicted the Latin epithet describing his (our) species. Wysocki has done a superb job, using all the atrocities and agonising derision at his command.

- Dariusz Nowacki

Radek Wysocki (b. 1966) graduated in Political Science and Journalism from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He has worked as an editor and journalist, and is now a freelance copywriter. His first book to be published, four years ago, was for children.