Don Juan: His Own Version
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010)
Peter Handke brings us an interesting look at the apparently oft-misunderstood legend of Don Juan. We as readers are granted access to the sensitive side of this legendary womanizer by the narrator, a slightly depressed chef and innkeeper whose business is less than thriving in the French countryside where he makes Don Juan’s acquaintance. The chef had given up living actively —gardening and attempting to educate himself—and was instead living passively, watching life grow and proceed around him. The sudden appearance of Don Juan offers a welcome distraction. Our narrator—and in turn, we—vicariously live through Don Juan’s tales of lust and adventure.
For each day that Don Juan stays at the inn, he tells of his adventures one week prior. The result is somewhat disjointed, with minimal dialogue or markers. Handke’s narrative is continuous, filled with rich descriptions and circuitous trails through many stories, people, and places. While the overall product is somewhat difficult to follow at times, many of Handke’s sentences can be appreciated on their own, as separate entities.
Don Juan is shown as a victim of aggressive women, not as the womanizer he has been portrayed as in so many legendary international references. Instead, it appears that women are simply unable to resist him as he moves through his daily life. The innkeeper is able to see a different side of Don Juan—a compassionate, caring, considerate man who tries to lead a fulfilling, adventurous life, but is interrupted by the nuisance of beautiful, desirable women throwing themselves at him. We must all commend his bravery for surviving this challenging lifestyle, and all of the lovely obstacles he has encountered.