Majkut (Asterion, 2014, etc.) offers a fresh take on the classic revenge tale inspired by the early writing of Karl Marx.
Only partially completed in 1837, Marx’s verse-drama fragment Oulanem: A Tragedy comprises four scenes and seven characters. Majkut’s slow-burning conspiracy adds to that cast, builds on the scenes and imagines their trajectories, relocating the action from Italy to 19th-century Austria following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Nihilistic philosopher Tillo Oulanem (who sees the world as “a detestable, viscous place populated by slugs”) has accepted an invitation to lecture at Innsbruck’s university. His arrival is heralded by Rudolf Pertini, a seemingly docile civil magistrate who offers lodging to Oulanem and his companion. But Pertini’s charitable demeanor belies his true intentions: He’s been waiting for years to exact revenge on Oulanem. By casting others of Innsbruck as pawns in his scheme, Pertini instigates Oulanem’s undoing. “Now, I set the minor characters in motion,” he says, “and, like grindstones in a mill, they will prepare the flour for my feast…I will set the table, prepare the final banquet, and serve only one guest, who will consume himself.” The pawns provide mostly engrossing story arcs of their own. There’s Albirich, a smug Viennese student of high standing who organizes trysts in an abandoned clock shop; Beatrice, a young woman whose menstruations lead to violent mood swings and, consequently, a laudanum addiction; Oulanem’s protégé, Lucindo, orphaned as a boy and determined to uncover his origins while he fights Albirich for Beatrice’s affections; and Benedikt Perto, a well-meaning (if hypocritical) priest and staunch combatant of apothecary methods of healing. These braided storylines produce an image of an insular town consumed by anti-Semitism, infidelity, political tension and superstition. While casual readers may feel bludgeoned by the heaps of Austrian history, most anyone interested in the political and social minutiae of everyday people will find these details enriching. In a novel written so well, and with such restraint, it’s easy not to feel Pertini’s steadily tightening noose until it closes as all is revealed—to great satisfaction—in the final act.
An impressive denouement to Marx’s unfinished play.