I seem to have committed myself to doing a few things here recently, like continue with my book list and review Metropole. So I shall start with the latter – my list is an indulgence, Metropole not.
I had to look up Wikipedia to find out who Ferenc Karinthy, the author of Metropole, was. I quote:
‘Ferenc Karinthy (June 2, 1921, Hungary - February 29, 1982) was a novellist [sic], playwright, journalist, editor and translator, as well as a water polo champion. He authored more than a dozen novels. The writer and journalist Frigyes Karinthy was his father.’
[Do people author now instead of write? Makes you worry about the veracity of this statement. Perhaps Karinthy was, in fact, a polo mint champion.]
Metropole is, and I acknowledge the danger of employing the term, Kafkaesque, at least in terms of its plot. The whole premise of the story is based on a very slim thought: what would happen if you found yourself in a place where no-one could understand you and you could understand no-one. It doesn’t take much imagination to allow that you would face a mixture of emotions in varied order, incomprehension, anger, fear, paranoia, resignation, to name but a few.
Karinthy explores all of these, of course, and more, however it is the manner of his delving that makes this book a page-turner. Just as you find yourself in sympathy with the predicament in which Gregor Samsa, in Metamorphosis, finds himself despite the grossness of what he has become, you rage on behalf of Budai, the hero, in his helplessness facing the stupidity and insensitivity of those around him.
There are many ways to read this book so I shall not inflict mine on you. Suffice it to say, and it may well be a cultural difference, Karinthy’s analysis and observations of the situation that Budai faces are fresh for an English reader, a better word would be foreign. It is, indeed, like being lost in a strange city.