The Brueghel Moon by Tamaz Chiladze opens with the falling apart of a marriage as the story’s protagonist, Levan, is left by his wife. The scene is the first of many that shows Levan’s hopeless nature as he responds with nothing more than disconnected confusion while his wife storms about their house yelling at him. He shows emotion when his wife mentions that she’s taking their daughter with her, but even then, Levan doesn’t try to stop her and instead watches her leave and vanish from his life.
Starting out in first person, the novel alternates between first and third person for the rest of the story, using the switching points to denote when Levan is focusing on a particular side character. This fractures the novel’s flow and makes it challenging to follow Levan. Confusion aside, the novel weaves the many details of characters, its energy and momentum ebbing and flowing in its forward movement. We slide away from Levan after he spends time wallowing in his sadness. He turns to alcohol to make his days go by faster. And then suddenly, an old patient of Levan’s (he is a psychiatrist) is back in his life and the story becomes Nunu’s. Levan remembers Nunu and her story from when she was his patient from so long ago, which in turn makes her recounting of it seem drawn out and a frisson for Levan’s own despondency. Nunu’s story is contradictory, even confusing, and remarkably accurate in portraying how mentally unstable she is.
Once Nunu’s story is finished, the novel returns to Levan and his reflections as he analyzes his past self through his own diary. But before Levan can dive too deeply into himself, he runs into a woman at a party, Ana-Maria, and ends up getting a phone call a few days later from the embassy asking for his services as a psychiatrist for her. What follows is a whirlwind romance that isn’t quite a romance as the feelings between the characters feel much like what Levan had with his wife. There is some bubbling conflict with the pair since Ana-Maria is a married woman, but this is quickly dissolved as she states her husband doesn’t care and the only people they need to hide it from is the general public.
As the novel concludes Nunu comes up to Levan and claims that Ana-Maria is the child she gave up long ago. She gives Levan the dog-tags of Ana-Maria’s father, whom she says came from space, and then makes Levan give them to Ana-Maria without telling her where they came from. Levan doesn’t question Nunu, and passes along the dog-tags, which subsequently end up driving Ana-Maria into the depths of insanity because she thinks the dog-tags are speaking to her in a language that she doesn’t understand. Ana-Maria’s husband steps in to confiscates the dog-tags and tells her to never speak of them again. By this point, Levan is starting to question his feelings for Ana-Maria and before he can go too in-depth, she’s leaving to find herself somewhere else.
Chiladze does a fine job of looking into the life of a psychiatrist who cannot disassociate himself from his profession. He tackles the hard topics of introspection and delves into a mind that is hard-wired to tear itself apart. At novel’s end, Levan finds himself falling closer and closer to madness as the boundaries of sanity begin to blur until finally he can’t tell the difference anymore. Levan says, “I actually believed in what I said or shouted at her. In this case, if anyone was deceived, it was me.” We’re then suddenly left with an end abrupt and the lingering thought that not everything is as straightforward as it seems.
The Brueghel Moon
Published by Dalkey Archive Press