Set in Austria in 1967, Irving’s first novel introduced the bizarre style and outrageous imagination that was to become his trademark. The pair of young heroes, Hannes and Siggy, undetached from any kind of worldly commitment, travel by motorcycle through the European countryside, fantasizing, planning, complaining about all manner of authoritarianism, and generally enjoying the free life. One of their imaginary schemes is to free all the animals in the Vienna zoo as a statement against the encroaching fascist mentality of Europe, which had been the cause of World War II and was still in evidence after the war. Siggy dies, however, in a strange encounter with a swarm of bees. As a tribute to Siggy, his friend Hannes brings the plan to fruition, using Siggy’s elaborate notes about the schedule of guards, the layout, and other details of the zoo.
As in his 1998 novel A Widow for One Year, Irving divides the novel into three parts. The first section describes the meeting of the two protagonists, their picaresque adventures through Europe on motorcycles, and Siggy’s bizarre, tragicomic death from bee-stings. The second section is Siggy’s diary, a prehistory in that it describes Nazi Germany before his birth. Here the grotesque elements of oppression are highlighted—bizarre, ironic deaths and meaningless slaughter. In the third section, Hannes frees the animals, only to witness their destruction, a contradiction to the philosophical idea...
(The entire section is 520 words.)