Book Review: Nick Cave – And The Ass Saw The Angel
And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
Nick Cave, charismatic leader of Australia’s punk entourage The Birthday Party, and now fronting The Bad Seeds, makes his writing debut with his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel. Cave’s novel follows the same thread of Southern blues that he has been proliferating with The Bad Seeds. The story begins in the late 1930s and chronicles the fluctuating power of a religious sect entrenched in a secluded valley, where their quest for control far outreaches their congregation.
The story unfolds vicariously, through the life of a mute boy, Euchrid Euchrow. Euchrid is alienated by the church people and pummeled by the townspeople. Outcast and alone, he receives messianic visions and embarks on his mission to save the town. Euchrid becomes a tragic savior figure; a stigma bleeding from the nose instead of the hands and feet, an angel of death wielding a sickle. As Euchrid sinks into the pit of quicksand that will be his death, he tells of his life, filled with sorrow, filth and despair.
Cave writes in a style of Faulkner but more elaborately, pushing the edge of sanctity and sanity. The subjects are the same: incest, rape, murder, greed, power struggles, perversion. But Cave stretches his character to extremes of perversity and goodness, passion and depravity. Prostitutes become angels, religious leaders become drunk hobos and defilers of the churches and innocent children bring about the fall of the whole town. Without the restraint of his era, Faulkner may have very well written this frankly and starkly.
Cave also manipulates language, creating new words that are at first humorous but then become strangely appropriate, even more accurate and descriptive than the words which blind our communication. Euchrid “speaks” in a highly elevated language that sheds new light on ordinary life, making the simple seem more important and the so-called “important” things in life seem mundane.
Cave’s vision of religious dementia pushed to paranoiac proportions is staggering. He perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of religious grandeur when a group of people elevate themselves above everyone around them. At the end of the book, there is a cyclic feeling, as if it were about to begin again and continue unceasingly.
Disturbing, yet familiar, And The Ass Saw The Angel is very well “the second-greatest story ever told.”
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