Saturday, 29 August 2009
The weather cooled this morning. Alarm set to 6 am after a late-ish last night supper with with Laci, Gabi and Linda in the garden of a newly re-opened restaurant situated in the fork of two roads. Back for watermelon and a little talk before bed. At night car alarms go off, police and ambulance chase each other down nearby main roads and I wake at 5.30 anyway. On TV Tottenham are playing Liverpool in 1995. John Barnes scores. This is not a dream. The alarm does go off at 6am. We rise, shower, breakfast and pack what's left to pack, then tidy the flat. At 7 am we cross the hall to share a coffee with Laci and Gabi. The advance copy of The Burning of the Books and Other Poems, we have discovered, has a double blank page in it between the contents page and the first poem. C and I fill it, she with a drawing and I with a poem. We give it to them. Then the airport shuttle service arrives and the farewells.
The bus heads first into the Castle District to pick up a young Japanese couple. We cross Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge) with my favourite view of the Danube, looking towards Parliament and Margit híd (Margaret Bridge), a view I always find heartbreakingly beautiful. The main road to the airport is blocked by a three-car crash, says the radio, so we take an alternative road, Üllöi út, lined with plain single-storey buildings and a tramline along which we see no tram moving. We arrive at the airport, Ferihegy 1. There I continue to read Adam LeBor's thriller, finishing it on the plane, which has a bumpy ascent and a bumpy descent through cloud in both cases. The luggage belt take twenty minutes to start moving. Taxi drives us through back lanes to Hitchin. I forget how beautiful, green, and gently undulating Hertfordshire is. We have lunch at C's mother's where we left the car. Her forgetfulness is quite marked now.
Impressions of Hungary in political terms? Worrying, brutal, the country swerving far right rather quickly. Adam's novel explores this rightward swing in terms of a conspiracy thriller. The thriller part is fine - I don't read thrillers on the whole - but the political landscape he draws holds me right through.
Political landscape is an important aspect of the book's, any book's, reality-sense. It's always the reality-sense which grabs me. I am not primarily a great fan of plot and character. I take them in my stride, but consider them chiefly as the necessary, and necessarily artificial, means of shaping the reality-sense, the sense that tells me life is strange yet parallel. Truth to tell I generally finish up not caring what happens to the central characters as such. It is the world I want to understand not them. But since the world necessarily involves the imagination and cannot be understood without it, fiction, and therefore plot and character, are necessary. Reality-sense is not detached from the quality of writing, of course. The two are indivorcible.
It was Pound who said that technique was the test of a man's sincerity. I don't think he meant slickness, or effectiveness in terms of rhetoric. I think he meant a proper tension in the way language passes through a writer's nerves.
Well, Hungary works through my nerves and at the moment it chiefly makes me twitch. It feels as though it is at an important and dangerous stage in its development.