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April 1999
 
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Kater Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann

The tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann, nightmares that grow like virulent, exotic plants beneath the reader's gaze, are fairly well known by Fantasy enthusiasts. Less well known than the tales is Hoffmann's novel, Kater Murr.

This complex, truly wild fiction, created in the mid-1800's, is the autobiography of the tomcat Murr, written on the backs of the pages of a manuscript he has clawed to pieces. Interspersed with Murr's musings is the biography of Kappelmester, Johannes Kreisler, Murr's owner. As the fragments of the cat's story proceed in a linear fashion, those representing Kreisler's are arranged in reverse order, creating a weird, schizophrenic text.

We follow the development of Murr from kittenhood to self-proclaimed cat genius. Throughout, he shamelessly promotes his ponderous philosophy and hysterically bad poetry, musing on the superiority of cats to humans. Alternating with these sections are the fragments of the life of Kreisler, a composer and musician, suffering bouts of self-doubt, paranoia, and true artistic genius. Kreisler is involved, through the shadowy, magus character of Meister Abraham, in Court intrigue and fantastic, dark doings that the reader is ever on the verge of understanding yet never really gets to the bottom of.

Hoffmann, the product of a broken home, an unloved and unappreciated child prodigy, admitted to hearing the devil's voice in his head when he was a youth. Other voices, personalities within personalities, the theme of the double, dominatehis amazing creative output in music, painting and writing. Kreisler was the pseudonym under which Hoffmann published his brilliant critical essays on music, and Murr was the real name of his cat. Through these two entities, he pieced together the fragments of his own shattered psyche and commented on the relationship of art and artists to society.

—Jeffrey Ford

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