When I started this, it was at a time when I needed a good book that was an obviously good book. Not one of those, well, made-it-to-the-end-and-didn't-hate-it kind of books. The Mighty Angel came to me just in time.
This novel has voice. And a dark humor. It's tragic and hopeful at the same time. Maybe it's satirical, maybe it's not. In any case, I loved it, and I read it fairly slowly, savoring the language and the characters and the plot.
"You yourself calculated that in the course of the last twenty years you'd drunk two thousand three hundred and eighty bottles of vodka, two thousand two hundred and twenty bottles of wine, and two thousand two hundred and fifty bottles of beer..."
Jerzy is an alcoholic. He's also a lover of language, a writer because he's a writer as much as a drinker because he's a drinker. He's been in formal rehab eighteen times, but he's been in his own personal kind of pseudo rehab, with women taking care of him until they realize the alcohol takes precedence and drives Jerzy; they're hopelessly committed to his convalescence until they're completely hopeless. Then they leave.
"When I say I do not drink, it is certainly the case that this is not true, but when I say I do drink, I could equally be lying through my teeth. Don't believe me, don't believe me. A drunkard is ashamed to drink, but a drunkard has an even greater source of shame - he's ashamed not to drink. What kind of drunkard doesn't drink? The lousy kind. And what's better: lousy or not lousy?"
Who can't laugh at that even while crying on the inside? Of course the women leave, in the face of this talk, of this futility and absurdity.
Jerzy relates the stories of those on the alco ward, in rehab with him. While he's there, he writes instead of drinking. When he's out, he's drinking and incapable of writing. The stories of his cohort are numerous and the same but particular in the details. Don Juan the Rib, The Most Wanted Terrorist in the World, the Queen of Kent - even his grandfather, long gone, is central but beside the point. All of them are trapped in their addiction, and there are two ways out: To be a lousy drunkard or a superior one.
In one memorable scene, Alberta and two strange men appear to Jerzy as he is longing for his next drink, which is nowhere to be found. They offer him drinks and an agreement: Help Alberta publish her poems so that they're read by the Pope (yeah, the Pope), and he can drink all he wants. She stays with him and recites her pieces, but she can't help but listen to and talk with Jerzy.
"Let me tell you, Ala: only the naive think that there are different kinds of getting out....every getting out is the same...You get out of the hospital, in other words you get out of your illness, and re-enter the world, which itself is one big illness. Do you see?"
The plight of an alcoholic is explained through this kind of logic, and it continues throughout the novel. If anyone has the most complete picture of alcoholism and its ruinous effects, it's Jerzy, writing down the stories of countless other drunks. No one else knows more about this illness than he does, but after countless relationships and stays at a rehab facility, it's unlikely to think that reasons for getting out matters much; what else could compel someone to leave one illness for another, to step from an alco ward and into the illness of the world? In the end, we find out whether Jerzy believes the things he says he does about alcoholism, whether or not he's willing to trade one illness for another, and why.