Thursday 22 October 2009

Ionesco - The Hermit

Ionesco’s anonymous narrator is a young man, an everyman, a human being. We meet him, the Hermit, at the age of thirty-five (like Dante "nel mezzo del cammin…") in the city of Paris. There he would have died of boredom and depression, if not for an unexpected inheritance that allows him the luxury of an immediate retirement from his job – a job he saw as “...lists, lists, lists.” He abandons fifteen years of living by the clock; a tedious, pre-determined existence punctuated only by drunken oblivion and failed love affairs. He is a lonely man and he is more than a trifle bored.

As he embarks on a new life – in a new apartment, with new possessions and new neighbours – he feels an initial relief at being his own man; but this period of mental calm is short-lived. Unable to overcome his need for routine and the sense of comfort it brings, he falls into a confined, unimaginative pattern of life. His loss of purpose is substituted by the bottle, and his life revolves around his meals at the local café. His isolation is given up to repetitive, intense introspection, metaphysical anxieties and obsessive fears. With the resignation that only an idealist can experience, he succumbs to a profound and debilitating pessimism about the world, believing that “If I had been less of a philosopher, I would have had a happier life”. We follow his existence over years, with time being scattered about, slowing down and speeding up, in congruence with his state of mind.

The Hermit is Ionesco’s only novel, and it embodies many of the themes that recur throughout his extensive body of work. He was greatly interested in the solitude and insignificance of human existence, and modern feelings of alienation. He also felt a sense of wonderment and anguish at the strangeness of reality, and this is splendidly expressed in the mouth of the Hermit.

This novel, with its elements of magical realism, is a fascinating insight into a tortured mind, and compels reflection on mortality, free will, alienation, idealism and the ignorance of man.


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