Benjamin Lytal reviews Imre Kertész’s Detective Story for the New York Sun:
“Detective Story” (1977) is another sort of tale altogether — except that, then again, it isn’t. Set in an unnamed Latin American country, the new novel, which was Mr. Kertész’s third in Hungarian, spins a deeply self-conscious web of psychological drama that should be familiar to any of Mr. Kertész’s readers. Like them, it is a very brief book, one that you could breeze through, if you wanted, without noticing its delicacy. As we learn from the opening chapter, “Detective Story” presents the testimony of a low-level intelligence agent, brought to justice now that the dictator he served has fallen. Antonio Martens presumably faces death for crimes against humanity, and most specifically for the deaths of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, father and son, two famous industrialists executed, without evidence, by Martens and his colleagues.
Benjamin Lytal is at it again, this time reviewing José Maria Eça de Queirós’ The Maias. He is considered the greatest Portuguese writer, and I was just thinking about checking into him; Agualusa kept bringing him up in The Book of Chameleons. As usual, New Directions is way ahead of me. I wish they weren’t quite so good, but it’s nice to know somebody out there is looking after my interests.
But as I read on, into the long straightaway that, comprising only two years of the novel’s 70-year narrative, takes up the majority of its pages, I began to appreciate Eça’s emotional point. Where a character such as Homais, Flaubert’s pedantic pharmacist, stays face up, a fool, in reader’s minds, Eça’s aristocratic fools have a flip side: Their civic and national damnation. Ridiculous as they may be, they always have the excuse of whistling in the darkness. In Eça’s hands, a Flaubertian fool becomes a tragic symbol.
It’s not exactly a rave from Mr. Lytal—“But, as a builder of novels, Eça may deserve some immortality. “The Maias,” in its 600-page heave, does go somewhere.”—but it’s definitely going on the reading list.
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
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