The world goes on indeed, and it’s not pretty: so Hungarian novelist Krasznahorkai (The Last Wolf and Herman, 2016, etc.) instructs in this existentialism-tinged set of linked stories.
It could just be the Rivotril talking, but when Krasznahorkai’s narrator gets going on the subject of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, it quickly turns into a conspiracy theory full of ominous warnings about shadowy doctors, vodka, and the KGB: “Gagarin had to disappear for good, and of course, the way in which he died—that one of the nations, indeed one of the world’s greatest heroes would perish due to such a simple test flight—was inconceivable, I had to understand this.…” The Gagarin story opens on an urgent note of leave-taking: “I don’t want to die,” Krasznahorkai writes, “just to leave the Earth,” which subtly echoes the opening words of the collection itself: “I have to leave this place, because this is not the place where anyone can be, and where it would be worthwhile to remain….” That echo sounds at many points throughout the book, a whirlwind of sentences that run on for 10 pages and more at a time and that evoke a world-weary pessimism over human beings and their strange ways. Renouncing the very promise of salvation, a bishop declares that “no one shall attain heavenly Jerusalem,” adding, “and the distance which leads to Your Son is unutterable,” while on a more terrestrial plane, a banker grumbles over audits and paper trails and fearful CEOs. The spirit of James Joyce hovers over Krasznahorkai’s pages, and Nietzsche is never far away, either; indeed, the German philosopher appears early on, breaking down into madness on witnessing a horse being whipped in a Turinese street. In dense, philosophically charged prose, Krasznahorkai questions language, history, and what we take to be facts, all the while rocketing from one corner of the world to the next, from Budapest to Varanasi and Okinawa, all places eminently worthy of being left behind.
Complex and difficult, as are all of Krasznahorkai’s works, but worth sticking with.