Reviews for The annual banquet of the gravediggers' guild

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Brigadoon meets Claude Lévi-Strauss in a pleasing tale of the supernatural. David Mazon is the sort one would suspect lives in his mom’s basement. In his mid-30s, he finally bestirs himself to finish his doctoral dissertation in anthropology, a field project that takes him from Paris to the rural French village of La Pierre-Saint-Christophe. “Malinowski notes that insects and reptiles are the principal obstacles to the work of the ethnologist,” Mazon writes in his journal, and while reptiles are comparatively scarce, there are plenty of worms and bugs in his bivouac. Little does he know that they’re unfortunately transmigrated human souls: “As David Mazon...poured half a bottle of bleach over the red annelids taking over his bathroom, he was unaware that he was returning to the Wheel the black souls of murderers whose vicious crimes had condemned them to many generations of suffering.” Every living thing in the village was once something or someone else. La Pierre-Saint-Christophe is the perfect venue for recycling the dead; undertaking is a big business and Death has cut a deal: Each year the Grim Reaper will take time off so the funerary guild can enjoy a weekend of hard partying, whence Énard’s title. Led by the mayor, Martial Pouvreau, they’re a Rabelaisian crew, given to high-flown oratory between blackouts; as the feast opens Pouvreau proclaims, “we shall drink until we drop, still struggling to make our gastral gurglings intelligible.” Énard has rollicking good fun with his tale, and although not much happens outside metamorphosis, drunkenness, and David making fumbling efforts at romance while eventually resolving to abandon social science for farming, Énard playfully works some of the same ecumenical ground as in earlier novels such as Compass (2017) and Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants (2018), drawing on the sometimes-colliding tenets of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Good fun, and blissfully inconclusive, as befits a shaggy-dog story of unending reincarnations. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.