Now that the festival is over, and between reflections on it, I am proof-reading the Márai book I finished translating at the end of February, to be called Portraits of a Marriage. It's remarkably good and there are passages on every page that seem perfectly articulated. There are four clear and distinct speakers in the book, and that must be remembered as we are reading. Each speaks his or her monologue in order. Ilonka, the first wife, has marvellous perceptions as do they all. Here is Peter, her husband who goes on to marry the maid, Judit, on the subject of loneliness and ageing:
Life, you know, becomes increasingly mechanical. Things chill down. The rooms are as well-heated as ever they were, your temperature remains normal, your blood pressure is exactly as it was, you still have money in the bank or in your business. Once a week you go to the opera or to the theatre, preferably where they are playing something cheerful. You eat light meals at the restaurant; you mix your wine with sparkling water because you have taken note of all the healthy advice. Life presents no problems. Your local doctor, that if he is only a good doctor not a true one – the two are not the same – shakes your hand after the half-yearly check-up and says you’re fine. But if he is a true doctor, that is to say a doctor bred in the bone, in the way a pelican is nothing but pelican and a general is a general even when he is not engaged in a battle and is simply trimming his hedge or doing the crossword; if he is a doctor of this sort, he will not be satisfied with shaking your hand after the half-yearly examination because despite the fact that your heart, your lungs, your kidneys and liver are all in perfect working order, he recognizes your life is not so, and can sense the chill of loneliness as it works through you, exactly the way a ship’s delicate instruments can detect the mortal danger of the approaching iceberg even in warm waters. I can’t think of another analogy, that’s why I return to the iceberg. But maybe I could just add that the chill is of the kind you feel in the summer, in houses emptied of occupants who have departed for their holidays, having sprinkled camphor here and there and wrapped their furs and carpets up in newspapers, while outside it is summer, scorching hot summer, and behind the closed shutters the lonely furniture and the shadowed walls have soaked up all the cold and loneliness that even inanimate objects register, that everyone feels is there, that all who are lonely, objects a well as people, breathe in and radiate.
... outside it is summer, scorching hot summer, and behind the closed shutters the lonely furniture and the shadowed walls have soaked up all the cold and loneliness that even inanimate objects register, that everyone feels is there, that all who are lonely, objects a well as people, breathe in and radiate....
I have read that sentiment before, of course. Why? Because it is a sentiment generally understood if rarely articulated so clearly,
Márai has a terrifying clarity. He is a man of ideas who thinks through dramatic personae, as though he had become a different creature, male or female, while remaining himself.
As for the passage I just think it is gorgeous: the doctor 'bred in the bone', the general trimming his hedge, the iceberg approaching through warm waters, the camphor, the furniture, the shadowed walls. Such images are the stuff of poetry and of rational discourse at the same time. They are there to unfold the logic. As with all the best writing there is implicit a kind of shiver, like a ghost passing through the skin, flesh and bones. It is the shiver of getting something dead right.