So a mere 24 hours ago we went on record suggesting that we had no interest in The Kindly Ones. We hereby recant. What changed? Daniel Mendelsohn's typically thoughtful examination in the New York Review of Books:
To name a literary work after the third play in Aeschylus' trilogy, then, is to invoke, with extreme self-consciousness, two related themes: one having to do with civilization in general, and the other with human nature. The former concerns justice, its nature and uses: how it is instituted, and then executed, how much it conflicts with, regulates, and possibly appeases the more primitive thirst for vengeance, which it is meant to supersede. The latter concerns the unsettling way in which, beneath even the most pleasant, "kindly" exteriors, dark and potentially violent forces lurk. Neither, needless to say, is restricted to Greek tragedy, or classical civilization; if anything, both are intimately connected to the main preoccupation of Littell's novel, the German program of extermination during World War II.
This review is a powerful reminder that one deeply engaged critic can turn the tide of a dozen lesser opinions. Whatever our final opinion of The Kindly Ones is likely to be, we can no longer dismiss it so easily - and we stand chastened for having been so quick to dismiss to begin with.
This is the kind of criticism we live for.