In Handke’s slim novel, the famous lover hops a wall, fleeing from an angry couple, and begins recounting his life to an innkeeper. In the Los Angeles Times, Natasha Randall notes that more than 1,500 versions of Don Juan’s story have been written, and that most of these “tend to damn Don Juan variously—and to damn the women who succumbed to or partook in the seduction too. But Handke is defiant of these versions, and his Don Juan isn’t corralled into any tidy deliverance.” Instead, Handke “show[s] them up with his clean, broad narration, which refuses to herd a reader toward conclusion. Handke’s text is anti-reductive.”
In the New York Times, Joel Agee writes: “Caveat emptor: this book is not about sex. The Don Juan of legend, opera and literature was a ruthless libertine whose servant kept count of his thousands of conquests. Now the true Don Juan has come to tell us that Mozart, Molière and all his other interpreters had it wrong. He is an orphaned soul—“orphaned,” we learn, by the death of a child, or, alternatively, a lover—and sorrow, not desire, is his motive force.” Yet, despite calling the book a “whimsical tour de force,” Agee concludes that “It doesn’t quite work.” For all of the intellectual pleasures offered by Handke, Agee misses the “brilliant, joyful virility” of earlier Don Juans.
Don Juan: His Own Version by Peter Handke
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 112 pp., $22.00