08. 21. 2018. 11:52

A clean page, beginner’s luck, a new set of rules

An interview with László Garaczi

I write every book as if it were the first. A clean page, beginner’s luck, a new set of rules - László Garaczi talks to Lajos Jánossy about the latest novel in his Lemur series, Tearing Off (Hasítás).

You’re now into the fifth volume of the Lemur series. Could you see so far ahead when you began the novel series?

No. I was working from real experiences and, in the beginning, I was trying to think in the framework of a narrative and to interpret the past as a raw material. Rousseau, Márai and Kassák were my examples but I couldn’t see ahead into the future. I tossed into an interview once that there would be five parts and now I’m paying the price. And I’d like to make it clear now that Tearing Off (hopefully) won’t be the closing chord of the series.


The last book in the series before Tearing Off was Wünsch Bridge, in which you played with your established perspective and the linear narrative, causing for uncertainty among both critics and the Lemur readership. What experience did you gain through this?

I write every book as if it were the first. A clean page, beginner’s luck, a new set of rules. Familiar motivations and solutions may appear but the spirit of the whole thing is generally different from its predecessors. But the lessons learned came to light much later. It’s not a completely mad idea for example that Tearing off is a development of one or two ideas from This Splendid Busride (Pompáson buszozunk!). Wünsch Bridge belongs in the series but it tests its limits. I’m reminded of the readers’ patience when Gábor Németh writes a word like smiley, szmájli. Szmájli! And if I did have a favourite, it’d be Wünsch. It’s like the younger sibling of No Sleep (Nincs alvás!). Bolek and Lolek. The adults are talking in the living room and the two scallywags are somewhere else blowing a fuse. Our love for that kind of child is completely different.


It’s set in the seventies and eighties in Budapest with significant flashbacks to the sixties, your childhood. Did you have to do any research and archive work first, so as to make sure your portrayal of that era was authentic?

The earlier books largely set the scene for the childhood chapters of Tearing Off. This time it was the stories which interested me, the motivations for the character’s development. The point of tearing off, the quality of tearing off. Realising at the age of six years old at a tram stop the secret goal of your life is to be slapped by girls. Another szmájli. The eighties are well known and well documented. I tried to work off the top of my head. I put together a photo album; I never fail to be inspired by faces, places and placards.


We mentioned that the novel is structured by a narrative that departs from dominant periods of the past. Why did you consider it necessary to revisit spaces of This Splendid Busride?

Usually the nature of the material and the structure of the novel dictate the treatment of time. As If (Mintha élnél) mixes the early childhood of the sixties with the time of writing in the nineties, the protagonist of This Splendid Busride is at primary school in the sixties, the soldier’s story in Face and About Face takes place during one year of the seventies. Wünsch Bridge and Tearing Off operate on several timelines; in Wünsch, the span of an entire life; and in Tearing Off, we follow the protagonist from birth until about the age of forty. In the latter, the childhood seemed important. In order to understand the eighties, it was necessary to cut sometimes back to the sixties.


Were there any surprises? Were there any characters from the source materials or from your own life experiences whose significance suddenly grew in the book, or vice versa?

In the original outline, Miki Lacza was the protagonist’s friend, his opposite, the protagonist of an utterly extreme approach to life. While Karcsi Csupor, the anxious, pedantic editor and informant began as a minor character. With time, the dominance of both seemed to switch. Miki was swept to the side and Csupi grew on me. Which wasn’t a problem in itself, but even in the periphery Miki still seemed more exciting than the spun-out, clichéd and repugnant Csupi. Something was out of balance in the makeup of the character, so I stripped Csupi back and rearranged him so he wouldn’t be so detestable. He became more mysterious, more forgivable and in the end the protagonist makes peace with him. Then I brought Miki out of the shadows, set him in motion and eventually he too came to a resting place.


In Tearing off, you provocatively toy both analytically and paradoxically with the autobiography as a genre. Which considerations led to the merging and differentiation of the writer László Garaczi and the character László Garaczi becoming one of the fundamental questions of the novel?

Names are the linguistic form of an ever-changing mask. I begin with my own memories which are then reinterpreted and reanimated by language and imagination. The eternal question is whether rhetoric cancels out, represents or re-interprets the reference. It’s not about me, I’m merely a servant to the mysterious process. The “auto-representation of language” isn’t a disadvantage or a loss to me but a condition, an opportunity, an inspiration. Some say that the imprint of being, the code, the “original” memory is hidden in rhetorical patterns. That’s a little occult for me but I wouldn’t argue. Existence itself might be rhetorical. The goal wasn’t to present my own fate but to listen to a lemur, a revenant, a spirit. And the world it speaks of is linguistic.


Do you see a next stop? What’s next for the Lemur stories after Tearing Off?

Ildikó Noémi Nagy and I have begun an experiment; we’re trying to write a novel together. The working title is Hullámzó horizon and its set around the time of the regime change in New York and Budapest. It’s a gothic emigrant story, or more precisely a ‘remigrant’ story because the protagonist returns to their completely alien roots. America and Hungary laid out side by side. Two people writing a text together is pretty uncommon. For the time being there still hasn’t been any aiming Pepsi cans or Miska jugs at each other’s heads. I’m still gathering material for the Lemur series; one volume will try to focus on the parents, the ancestors; in the other, most probably I’ll depart from experiences in writing, and perhaps eventually end up with a novel-essay.


This interview was originally published on Litera.hu.

For László Szabolcs's review of Tearing Off on HLO see here.

Lajos Jánossy

Translated by: Owen Good