Littells Roman „Die Wohlgesinnten“ gehört zu den meist diskutierten Romanen der letzten Jahre. In Frankreich mit Preisen überhäuft, in Deutschland meist als Naziporno verrissen, polarisierte seine ebenso empathielose wie ausführliche Beschreibung diverser Grausamkeiten und sexueller Perversionen Kritiker und Leser. Ich entschied mich damals gegen eine Lektüre.
Mit etwas Abstand legt nun der Altphilologie David Mendelssohn die wohl beste Analyse des Romans vor. Geschrieben für die New York Review of Books No. 5 unterscheidet er zwei strukturelle Hauptstränge, die er dann unterschiedlich bewertet:
The Kindly Ones comprises two large structural elements intended to explore these questions. The first is the historical/documentary plot—that is to say, the meticulous chronological recreation of Maximilien Aue’s wartime career from 1941 to 1945, which allows us to track Germany’s career, too: from the mass graves in eastern Poland and the Ukraine, following Operation Barbarossa, to Babi Yar and Kiev, to the Caucasus, and thence (after he irritates a senior officer who punishes him by sending him to the front) to the disaster at Stalingrad, then back to Berlin where he becomes a favorite of Himmler and Eichmann; then a stint in Paris which allows him to catch up with friends from his student days, collaborators who, like many of the characters, are real historical figures (Robert Brasillach, Lucien Rebatet); then a posting to Auschwitz in 1943, and finally, the fall of Berlin itself, which finds the Zelig-like Aue in Hitler’s bunker. This itinerary allows Max to be both eyewitness to and participant in the atrocities—and, because this narrator is an educated, reasonable-seeming man, allows the reader some access to the mentality of a perpetrator.
The second element is the mythic/sexual: that is, the entirety of the Oresteia story, superimposed on the primary narrative and consisting both of flashbacks to Max’s earlier life and events transpiring in the wartime present, which establishes him as a latter-day Orestes. He is obsessed with his soldier father’s disappearance at the end of the Great War, and with what he sees as the unforgivable betrayal of his father by his „odious bitch“ mother („It’s as if they had murdered him…. What a disgrace! For their shameful desires!“). He has an unnatural closeness to his Electra-like twin sister, Una (which turns out to be incestuous—a nod to Chateaubriand, one of the many French novelists who preside over Littell’s text; the sibling incest theme is, too, a notorious element in the work of the 12th century German bard Hartmann von Aue, whose name Littell has borrowed for his hero). He kills his mother and her second husband (in a scene closely modeled on Greek myth, including the mother’s desperate baring of her breast to her axe-wielding son). He is pursued relentlessly by agents of punishment—in this case, a pair of rather noirish detectives given the suggestive names of Weser and Clemens („Be-er“ and „Merciful“). All this is overlaid with increasingly elaborately narrated sexual fantasies and activities, culminating in an onanistic orgy at his sister’s abandoned house as the Russians enter Pomerania.