Friday, April 1, 2011
Another great European novelist condemned to obscurity : Marai
Sandor Marai's novel "Portraits of a Marriage," yes, portraits, published first in 1941, in Hungarian, and it seems to come back every 20 years without fail - now a new translation/edition in English - he's one of those European novelists, mid-century, so great, so austere, but but condemned to obscurity and hidden beneath the shadows of, pick one (or more), the Holocaust, Communism, an obscure language, a rigorous devotion to high literary style. I read one other Marai book, Embers, thought it was impressive and odd and I don't remember a whole lot about it; started Portraits last night - it seems a more ambitious and yet a more conventional book than Embers, draws you right in, a woman addressing her friend - you - about her ex-husband and everything that was wrong with their marriage. You can see from the start that this will be a novel very much about social class - he's more well-to-do than she, which is a huge factor in their estrangement, and also about sexism pure and simple, he seems to expect (and get, for a while) complete subservience. Will move on no doubt to infidelities - and then, I suspect, given the title, we will see more than one viewpoint on this marriage. Novel is pretty long, about 400 fairly dense pages, and though the reading is easy so far I will expect more of a plot, more tension, to develop because I think it unlikely I'd stick with a novel through that length if it's just a portrait, or a single person's ramblings about past events. I also suspect Marai, whole lived through some horrible times and was on the eve of those times when he wrote Portraits, will use the breakup of the marriage to convey his views of mid-century, middle-Europe society.