11. 08. 2005. 12:27

Madness transformed into tranquillity

Attila Bartis: Tranquillity

The novel is indeed smothering, the book is incredibly powerful, like a ramshackle work’s procreator staying his readers with a confident hand. Stay calm! – the Whole will take effect.

Rules: firstly, Mother should be in love with her son. But not just anyhow. Her love should really be hate, so she won’t let him be, twined in her love and hate to strangle his life and his every attempt. Secondly, the Father: the Father shall disappear, not be present, his presence a dwindling in memories, not that these memories were pleasant. These memories are a heavy load, hard to get rid of. Thirdly: let there be a pair of siblings, a Sister and Brother. If possible, they should be twins. A talented twin of the main character, who not only is blessed with talents, but is also willing to use them – to die even, if the situation arises. And let there be a sea of tragedy, several deaths, terrible loves, a tangled net of emotionally mangled people. All this should take place in a world of artists, a world where all rules are so much more easily broken and so the more violently they are, in order to be noticed.

Applying the rules:
let us place the tangle’s beginnings in a historic decade, in itself so overwhelming, in itself so significant it would have been better to have run away at once – and let the decades quietly trickle into the near present. So let the story roam the fifties, and run into the nineties. The hero should be young, so in theory he could run into LIFE, but contrarily it is he who is least mobile, he, who neither in past or future is able to move, to act. His loves are bound by the highly aberrant relation to his Mother, therefore he should either pick a monster for his love, and be avenged for all terrible suffering caused by his mother in this relationship, or choose a chaste and worthy love and end up in stalemate, and so hound his love to the asylum. The way of art should lie open to him, this at least, to offer some success, if no other act of his can claim to be such. His twin sister should also be a successful artist, but she should be able to escape the horrors of home, whether those of a dictatorial regime or a dictatorial mother. Let this artistic soul disappear in the tempting realm of Freedom, abroad, where her talent can soar, and her life be perfected. And Mother should strike down on son and daughter with 1001 curses, herself immobile in her room for a full fifteen years, arranging her daughter’s mock-funeral, maiming her son’s every able limb.

render expressive names: Andor Weér (Weér – blood), Rebeka Weér, Éva Jordán, Eszter Fehér (Fehér – white). (Twin sister Judit occasionally appears with her mother’s name, Rebeka, living and dying abroad as Rebecca.) Render our characters occupations and attributes: author, actress, Secret Service agent / theatre critic, publishing editor, violinist. Locate characters: Budapest, Nice, a room with no exit etc.

Running the programme:
after observing and applying the rules let us start the programme. And see how it all works out. Everyone meets everyone else in the story in some fashion, there are some characters who end up in people’s beds where earthly mortals rarely go. This accumulates substantial meaning later on: the publishing editor had been the lover of both father and son, the son all but becoming his own mother’s lover. The father’s lover ends up as the son’s publishing editor. The son writes over a hundred letters to his mother in his sister’s name, posting the letters from different cities, receiving answers from the mother, who has her son post these answers. The son hides his mother’s answering letters in a drawer, afraid to open them, scared of what she might be writing to her daughter, and so they carry on for years. Until it turns out that mother has been posting empty pages in response, to let on that she knew who the phony letters were from and that it’s all a fraud. But if they could torture one another in some way, why not? They play this nothing for long, miserable years. They fear the nothing, but these fears won’t diminish to nothing, in fact they become dominant.

It’s all a melodrama. The story exaggerates, the characters are too heavy-set, the plot too tricky. Yet in all this exaggeration one can find plenty of automation too. The real joke is that after admitting all this we must declare that despite all these weird elements of the novel, Bartis has transformed derangement to Tranquillity. The novel is indeed smothering, the book is incredibly powerful, like a ramshackle work’s procreator staying his readers with a confident hand. Stay calm! – the Whole will take effect. And why? Because the procreator often oversteps the boundaries of kitsch and tolerability, but the force of his talent, the flow of his book and the majesty of some scenes will captivate the reader. Madness that fits into a system. A great talent’s unforgettable book is what we will read.
Judit Ambrus
Translated by Dániel Dányi
Bartis Attila: Nyugalom
Budapest: Magveto, 2001

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