The Painted Bird - Jerzy Kosinski
A man has his eyes gouged out with a spoon. A second man is eaten alive by rats. A woman is killed by a glass bottle being smashed inside her. There are numerous examples of savage domestic violence, child abuse, animal cruelty and plague.
This all happens in the first 60 pages; then the Holocaust starts and things begin to get really grim.
In order to get away with this pitiless stuff, the writer needs to reward the reader with some real intellectual or emotional brilliance, which sadly this novel fails to do. The imagery is overstated and the plot is simply a sequence of horrific events.
There is also a disconnection between the narrator’s childlike view of the world and his sophisticated language. When using a child as the main point of view, the writer has 3 sensible options:
1) 3rd person, e.g. Lord of the Flies
2) 1st person using childlike language, e.g. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
3) 1st person using a adult voice looking back, e.g. Spies
All the examples above are successful. The Painted Bird goes for a mix of 2 and 3 and it just doesn’t work.