Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Novels do need plot, so I'm coming up for air
Yes the writing is powerful, each individual scene is harrowing, the setting is unusual and unfamiliar to most English-language readers, the theme is significant (Soviet domination of rural Hungary, the links to Nazism in the past and anti-Semitism in the present, the hypocrisy of a so-called class-less culture in which everyone seems to be thinking about whose ancestors were peasants and whose were more prosperous and sophisticated), in short everything I've posted recently about the last Szilard Borbely's novel The Dispossessed remains accurate - yet, 100+ pages in, there is not even the hope of an emerging narrative development or plot of any sort, and I cannot bear another 200 pages of this. Reading this novel, if you can do it, is akin to being immersed in the world of this novel, flat, dreary, unchanging, brutal, cruel. I get it, it's important to know such cultures existed, probably still exist, it's kind of amazing to think about how a child growing up in such a culture, as Borbely evidently did, could mature into a world-class writer. It's a warning against doctrinaire and totalitarian systems of government, which can be as brutal and inequitable as free-market governments, each oppressive in its own way, and a warning against making a fetish of the working class and the peasants (if such warnings are needed any more) - but by 100 pages, yes, I get it. I hate to be so pedestrian, but novels do need plot, some kind of narrative structure, an arc of development, a crisis that one of the characters or maybe all of the characters face and overcome, or don't. Immersion in hundreds of pages with the same notes on the same score can in fact produce a certain numbing stifling effect, which may well have been Borbely's intent, but after 100 pages of that any reader, I suspect, will want to come up for air.