Latest Review: "Towards the One & Only Metaphor" by Miklós Szentkuthy
Patrick is a regular reviewer of ours by now, and a huge, massive, supportive fan of all literature in translation.
Here’s the beginning of his review:
It is an unusual thing to see a press specifically focus on a single author, but that is what Contra Mundum Press has done with Hungarian author Miklós Szentkuthy, and if Towards the One & Only Metaphor is any basis to judge the rest of his work, the decision is one to be celebrated. Though one of those novels (this term used here in its most all-encompassing definition) that is “not for everyone” and one that is unabashedly difficult, it is also inviting and at its highest points gorgeous, thrilling, and plainly new, even if it was originally published in 1935. Szentkuthy makes it clear throughout the work that he is aware of the challenge he is asking readers to undertake with him, and more than once expresses an attitude not of the confidence and bullying that authors like Nabokov or Joyce hold dear, but instead a reassurance that a reader doesn’t need understanding firmly embedded in concrete for every passage—at one point Szentkuthy admits he is “too lazy” to define a concept, moves on with the sense of a definition, letting implied understanding between writer and reader hold the course.
Called “nearly-unclassifiable” and “something of a manifesto” by the jacket copy, Towards the One & Only Metaphor is made up of 122 numbered sections. They run a wild gamut that includes philosophical musings, theological rumination, aesthetic riffs, historical fictions, seeming diary entries, contemporary vignettes, and, because why not, a few lists. Ideas, historical persons, phrases, and images reoccur and link sections, Szentkuthy becomes suddenly enamored with an idea or a strategy, holds it for a while, and then drops it, having exhausted its engine and come to the end of the path. All of this works for the reader willing to dive in deep, find their sources of joy or connection, and when lost in a section, patiently move forward with Szentkuthy to find their next bright spot.
That sense of moving with Szentkuthy runs throughout the work and is an essential bit of surrender that the reader needs to make. Rarely has a single word in a title, “towards,” seemed so apt to both the author’s aims and the reader’s path to grasping those aims, and enjoying the way. Towards the One & Only Metaphor is a paced novel, moving in and out of various rhythms, but always having one. Szentkuthy does not force you along, his are not waves that drown you if you are unable to float with them, but gentler waves that leave you behind if you don’t find the current, or send you down an offshoot tributary, lost. This control of movement is true from the numbered sections through to word-to-word connections. Often, it seems better to read a sentence, enjoy the sounds and pace, but not comprehend totally, and move on to the next, rather than hold up the ongoing towards. When you are fully in sync, in understanding, in rhythm, the book comes to life and that is when the most glorious moments are encountered. When lost, unclear, one can give up and float down the gentle river with him, or hit the shore and walk back not a sentence or two, but a paragraph or more, to get back in the water and find both clarity and the movement. For an author to bring diverse influences, tones, and styles into a single towards is a wonder, and we are fortunate that translator Tim Wilkinson has the same sense, and grateful to the wisdom of Contra Mundum to not only commit to Szentkuthy as an author, but to Wilkinson as his translator.
For the rest of his piece, head here