Two short but maddeningly complex fictions by the Hungarian master (Seiobo There Below, 2013, etc.) of the postmodern.
Open Krasznahorkai’s latest in English, and you’re likely to feel a little lightheaded: giddy if you’re a fan of Lem as filtered through Danielewski, merely headachy if not. The Last Wolf concerns a Hungarian writer who, sitting in a bar among multilingual topers and a bored barkeep, recounts the unlikely twists of fate that led to a gig recording the true events surrounding the killing of the last wolf in the Spanish province of Extremadura. Why him and not a local? Who pulled the trigger? Did the wolf really die? It’s a shaggy dog of a yarn, told in an unrushing style without the benefit of a single period until the very end: “he even boasted of seeing the wolf—yes, I saw it, the wolf, he repeated—the only trouble being that they wanted to see the actual place because Felix was away, Felix? yes Felix, the gamekeeper next door, and he was about to embark on further details of the hunt when a rusty old car screamed to a halt in front of them, as he told the barman at the Sparschwein….” Fans of Oulipo-style experimentation will marvel at the pyrotechnics. Herman, which the publisher labels "a novella in two parts," concerns a game warden, “surrounded by stuffed birds, dilapidated furniture, and antlers mounted on the wall,” who, alarmed at an apparent increase in predatory activity out in the dark woods beyond town, goes to war with nature. Though fueled, Krasznahorkai writes, by “elemental compassion,” it would seem that his war spills over into civilization, for the second section—mercifully with periods—concerns the hunt the townspeople mount for the hunter himself. Suffice it to say that the story doesn’t end happily—and that, for all the narrative tricks, Krasznahorkai makes plain who the real predators in the world are.
Somewhere James Joyce is smiling. Krasznahorkai is a writer who, though difficult, demands greater recognition by readers outside Hungary.