By Jerzy Pilch
Unfortunately I have now read the sum total of Pilch’s books that have been translated into English. This novel, unfortunately, leaves you wanting more. Pilch is definitely the heir to Gombrowicz’s absurd humour and intelligence. Nothing really follows what you expect here despite the plot summary being something you could imagine a sitcom inhabiting. Kohoutek’s fancy woman arrives to stay at the family home, he hides her and a comedy of errors ensues. Not quite. Kohoutek retreats into remembering his past including some incredible comedic scenes – one involving a runnaway coffin, another regarding his father’s olympian marathons of house painting. The list continues – it is a very amusing book and I laughed out loud at several points: the hysteria of his family and the fact they keep telling each other that they will kill one another. It is almost perfect and even the fact that it is quite short is probably perfect as well; you are given incomplete views of the characters, parts of stories and all of this means that when you finish you still have something to think about. Simple. I don’t know why more writers don’t use this technique. We will now have to wait a few more years until another novel is translated. Hopefully the most recent translation, ‘The Mighty Angel’, is a success so a new release will be sooner rather than later.
Soundtrack: Candi Staton – Another man’s woman, another woman’s man.
By Vladimir Nabokov
I never really considered reading this book up until now. It was the fact that Sting referenced it in his famous song and I think that Sting is a less than valid arbiter of taste. You just need to look at what he has gone on to do since the Police with his progressive, turgid jazz-rock-aor fusions. I can see now that referencing Nabokov was an attempt to intellectualise and help popularise his insipid commercial post-punk. To reference another art form is quite fine but you have to look at how and why it is being done. This is certainly not Scott Walker referencing Bergman. Sting spells Nabokov’s name wrong and what particularly is ‘just like the old man in that book by Nabakov’? – That there was a young girl involved? I’m sorry, not good enough. Putting Sting to one side this is a fine book and part of the reason I am so annoyed is that if this book had not been bought for me (and it is a great edition by Weidenfeld and Nicolson) I would have assumed Sting’s mediocrity extends to the books he references and possibly never read it – so there is a lesson there. Because, this is an excellent book, so detailed and rich and well-written. The movie with Peter Sellers is good too but it is a different thing. I still can’t understand how a novel can be so funny, tragic and have such in depth psychological analysis all at the same time – but it does. Nabokov is a master of prose made all the more amazing by the fact Russian was his first language not English. Astounding. I will read his other novels now that I have exorcised the demons of assumptive implication. I won’t be stung twice.
Soundtrack: Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal
By Wladyslaw S. Reymont
A very enjoyable if slightly old-fashioned novel from the Nobel Prize winning writer. Even when reading Balzac, Chateaubriand or even Hoffman you don’t get the same feeling of them being dated as you do with this novel. However I do think this may be down to the translation as it did seem rather awkward at times. There were magnificent parts in the Comedienne though and a real depth of insight. Reymont was an actor in his early life and the term ‘Comedienne’ simply refers to a female actor. You can see that not a lot has changed in the performing arts – there are scandals, intrigue and affairs. The point being that Janina, who is the main character (I wouldn’t say heroine) and doesn’t play the game suffers for it. She is not necessarily likeable and that is where Reymont transcends the fiction of the day. He asks more questions than he gives answers and you are left with no character that you can completely empathise with. The world he creates is one of disorder. A worthwhile read and while it is dated and a little flawed and awkward in the language sometimes there is still much to inspire thought. Very good.
By Jerzy Pilch
Absolutely brilliant. There’s an intelligence here that rivals Gombrowicz. Pilch is pretty much unknown outside Poland with only one other novel translated (which I am sure I will be reading soon). What makes this so good are the twists and turns of the alcoholic’s mind and the penetrating insight that accompanies it. He reminds me of Erofeev or Bukowski but with more depth. There is a meta-fictional aspect of it that leaps out and surprises you: it isn’t laboured though and instead of meta-fiction it would be better to call it meta-alcoholism. I can’t recommend this book enough. The end was a little unexpected too, which is definitely a good thing. Highly entertaining, imaginative and thought provoking; there’s not much more to be said except that I felt sated at the end – the literary palate was delighted with this little book.
Soundtrack: ‘Burning Alcohol’ by The Stereo Bus.