The Eastern Europeans are at it again: getting all coy and mystical about The Meaning of Life and language’s inability to grasp it. Eastern European writers have the Big Questions tapped, you understand, but language can’t cut it. Yes, I’ve been reading Sandor Márai again, this time a collection of short stories called Magic, which does not seem to have been translated into English (what would be the point…?) or I would put this entry on the Book in this Blog page.
Here’s Marai up to his tricks in “The Mistake,” the story of a married couple who tire of their apartment, move into a more modern one, don’t like that either, and return to the original one, which still doesn’t satisfy them:
‘You know what kind of an apartment this is? It’s real.’
‘I don’t understand,’ said the woman.
‘But I understand,’ the man replied seriously. ‘I understand but I can’t say it any other way.’
How long can you continue stringing readers along with false promise of revelation only at the last moment to say that ‘you wouldn’t understand’? It’s like those dreams where you think you have discovered some important truth but can never recall it when you wake, even if every other detail is clear in your mind’s eye – you know, those really annoying dreams.
Another story is called “The Explanation.” As you should be able to guess by now, its title is wildly misleading. It’s about Danton, who realises What It’s All About on his way to the guillotine but, well:
He opened his swollen lips to cry out the explanation to the whole world. But then the drums rolled and the officer read out the list of the names of the condemned. So he fell silent, looked at the ground and smiled.
Even if he couldn’t find it in him to tell the world, he might at least have told the readers.