The reviews for this, while faultlessly emphatic on its dark depressingness somehow, through this very emphasis, made me imagine something more vivaciously, energetically dark and depressing. More frenzied, I think. The reality is drearier. This begins with some depressed, desultory characters in a Hungarian village abandoned except by them. The buildings are rotting, falling apart, the inhabitants unable to prevent them from returning to the primeval mud. The monotony is broken up by the arrival of someone with a personality and his sidekick, both previously thought dead. Only briefly broken up mind. Once we’ve established their arrival we spend the first half of the novel establishing quite what all the depressed desultory characters were doing before Irimias and Petrina got there. A child commits suicide and, while waiting for Irimias and Petrina, the characters lose themselves for a while in a drunken dance, which is about as good as things get for them.
Irimias, returning to the estate for some obscure nefarious bureaucratic reason, gathers up the characters and redistributes them for further nefarious bureaucratic reasons, obscure at least to me. The shine has gone off him for one character who realises he probably doesn’t even know what he is doing. It’s all about the pointlessness of a particular political situation, I imagine, and life in general. It’s not entirely deathly serious, there’s an edge of “what does anything really matter?” humour.
The problem with books that are said to be like Kafka and Beckett etc is that they are like them. That is, we have seen it before. We are slogging through all this dreariness for the literary value, and when books are like something else rather than like themselves, the literary value has been stretched too far and has worn a little thin. This is somewhat the case with this, but the problem with Difficult Books is that by the time you’ve got through them you’re kind of stockholmed, so I’m not sure whether this was enough of its own thing or not. It does have an atmosphere of it own, I think.