Sunday, September 11, 2011

Irving Malin | Review of Nádas' A Book of Memories

A Book of Memories, Péter Nádas. Emlekiratok konyve. (Budapest: Szepirodalmi Konyvkiado, 1986). Translated from the Hungarian by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997)
Review by Irving Malin

A Book of Memories, I believe, is one of the great novels of the last fifty years. It reminds me, in part, of the amazing conjunctions of memory, sexuality, and creativity found in Proust and Mann. I can merely hint here at the themes and metaphors of Nádas's achievement.

The title immediately brings into play two of the underlying themes of the narrative: memory and the creative description of memory. There are three sections of the text. One seems to be concerned wit the "last days" of the narrator who, at age thirty-three, tries to understand the reasons for despair about his abilities to render the past—that past which has made him the odd, miserable artist he assumes he is. But even in this section we are made aware of his "anomalous nature."

Although the narrator wants to write another text—and he gives us in the second section a broken, mythological "mural"—he is unable to finish it. He is so preoccupied with arbitrary movements, disjointed perceptions, that he offers one which reflects his obsessions with creativity and bisexuality. He calls his text "the multisecret world of my presentiments and presumptions." The "multisecret world" challenges his talent and life. To complicate matters, the third section seems to be another revision—a revision by another narrator.

Thus we have a textual commentary upon the "original" text. And we are not really shocked because Nádas has been using duplicitous subversions throughout his novel. Such sentences as the following have prepared us for "multisecret worlds": "There is no memory without the recurrence of emotions or conversely, every moment of lived experience is also an allusion to a former experience—that is what memory is." [Irving Malin, The Review of Contemporary Fiction]

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