‘Kryštof’s live ended on the same spot where it once had started.’ This is the opening line of the novel Aberrant. The author straight away makes clear that the reader should not have any illusions about the fate of the hero and that the focus will be on the path, the reasons that led to his death. After an expressive description of his death struggle the story jumps to the start of his life at that spot. It is a recollection of the little Kryštof Warjak sitting with his mother in a train on the way to Poland, looking out of the window and seeing fields covered with hogweeds (Cow parsnips), the poisonous plant. His mother warns him of this plant and the name hogweed will now forever stay in his mind, as an obsession.
Gradually we are led into the life of Kryštof; we learn about his youth, his time at school, how he left home at the age of sixteen, but most importantly about his closest friend, the wild boy Andrej, an orphan, to whom is dedicated a separate part of the novel. The story is continually interlarded with the investigation of his death, which is actually a parallel story of its own. His death is a mystery and even leads to the death of one of the doctors involved. This all indicates that there is more at hand, especially when one of the police reports states that Kryštof most probably was a dealer in exotic plants.
When he meets at high school Marián his live takes a fundamental turn. They both share the love and strong fascination for plants, for rare, exotic plants, like orchids, and because they have no money to buy them, they decide to go to South America themselves to find rare species. They succeed in smuggling them into the country. From there one it is small step to become professional smugglers, dealers, in exotic plants and bring in rare species into the country on demand of rich collectors. At one day Kryštof gets the request from a Russian collector to obtain the rarest specie of a very special plant from Japan. It is a mythical plant clouded in mysteries that only can survive seeded on living creatures. Kryštof seeds the plant in his arm and this finally leads to his death, because the plant destroys all that lives in his close surrounding. This is in short the story of Kryštof.
Next to that there is the story of Andrej, Kryštof’s close friend. In the small village where they lived there is also a young girl Nina. Nina later becomes the wife of Andrej and on one occasion, when Kryštof stops by, she betrays her husband with Kryštof. Andrej finds out and swears to have his revenge by killing Kryštof. Andrej’s search for Kryštof is like a lucid dream, where his existence is peeled down to its core.
As mentioned there is the parallel story of the investigation of Kryštof’s death. It reveals more and more that the Russian mafia is involved in it and that they have been looking for Kryštof. A series of gruesome deaths occurs, described in detail in the good tradition of for instance Miloš Urban, which shows that the mobsters were closing in on Kryštof.
The end of the book is like a scene from a Hitchcock film. As Kryštof’s live started in the train, there its ends, on the same track to Poland, where he used to go to visit his father. Alone in the train with his killer, a member of the Russian mafia, on his heels. In the end Kryštof manages to jump of the train, but so does the killer, and there he finally finds his end, in a dreaded field of hogweeds.
At first glance the whole story may look very chaotic, but Šindelka managed to combine the flashbacks and side stories in very clever way and he never abandons the reader. He is able to let the tension grow and in some way the book then becomes like a page turner. Despite the fact we know Kryštof will not survive, one wants to know why and how.
Šindelka’s language is at some stages very poetic, he even throws in a few poems, and makes it obvious that he has his primary roots in poetry. Is it a novel full of tension with a beautiful use of language.
“Think Orlean’s The Orchid Thief on acid. It’s all kinds of funky […] Šindelka’s world of ‘aberrations, anomalies, and mistakes’ feels unnervingly timely, and is enormously fun in the bargain”
—M. Bartley Seigel, Words without Borders
“The plant world constitutes a specific milieu in the novel and recalls [Michal] Ajvaz’s The Other City, which is visible only to those who wish to see it”
—Petr Vaněk, iLiteratura
“Aberrant by Marek Šindelka is a brilliantly written and ingeniously constructed novel […] when finished the reader is left with a liberating feeling of catharsis befitting the dramas of antiquity and medieval legends.”
— Czech Radio
Selected published translations (3)