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by Peter Nadas, Imre Goldstein (Translator)

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The hallucinatory, unforgettable account of a moment - or an eternity - in an uncertain love affair

The man has actually come to tell his lover that he wants to leave her, but as soon as he walks in he realizes he won't be able to tell her. The woman rolls a joint. They smoke it. And as they drift into another state of mind, he approaches the border zones between


The hallucinatory, unforgettable account of a moment - or an eternity - in an uncertain love affair

The man has actually come to tell his lover that he wants to leave her, but as soon as he walks in he realizes he won't be able to tell her. The woman rolls a joint. They smoke it. And as they drift into another state of mind, he approaches the border zones between being and nonbeing, between living and imagining, or is it between life and death?

From the acclaimed author of A Book of Memories we now have this unsettling and strangely beautiful exploration of the impossibility of love. The mysterious musicality and physical intensity of the narration will be familiar to readers of Nadas's other fiction, but Love is a radical new departure.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A magnificent work.” —Stuttgarter Zeitung

“Péter Nádas, one of Hungary's pre-eminent literary figures, has . . . transposed the novel of consciousness to the Socialist universe, and closed the gap between prewar modernism . . . and Eastern Europe.” —Eva Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review

Our Review
A Book of Love
The ripe, digressive style of Hungarian novelist Péter Nádas's 1997 A Book of Memories rightly earned comparisons to Proust -- if Proust had lived under Soviet rule. And like Proust, it can be said that Nádas focuses more on the perception of emotion and sensation than on plot. He writes high literary impressionism. What so awed critics about the epic novel A Book of Memories was the relentless accuracy of Nádas's emotional impressionism, and the same accuracy is even more palpable in his latest work, Love.

Love, as its title suggests, is an intimate book. The novel takes place in a single room and spans a single night, an extraordinary romantic encounter in which two adult lovers smoke a joint rather than discuss their ill-fated relationship. A hallucinatory monologue ensues, one so very dazed and confused you might begin to suspect that the joint has been laced with headier stuff. Here is where the impressionism comes into play. The passage of time is distended, the inactivity of each long minute sparks contemplation and utterances that stray across the page like smoke disappearing.

The contemplation of every gesture spawns regret, the completion of every movement is thrown into question: "Here we are, standing in the middle of the room, even though it seems I'm over there, by the wall, having fled there so I wouldn't jump out the window. Yet I am not there but here."

The obsessive circularity of the narrator's intoxication here is more like Beckett than Proust. The obsession itself is with escape: escape from the room, escape from the muddle, escape from the love affair, from the exhausting burden of life. But like in a dream, where you can't run from the monster because your body is asleep, the narrator can't escape, he can only obsess. Drugged delirium doesn't compromise the narrator's ability to think, have insights, or make connections; it liberates the mind from its obligation to logical truth, revealing instead a devastating emotional truth: "If the space I am in now is not a real space, if I merely believe it to be so, there is no point in running toward the balcony door; it seems I keep bumping into this obstacle of death, because at the place where I think the door is, there is no door. There is a wall."

The puzzle resolves to show that the narrator's own mind is his greatest obstacle, which, drug-induced or not, is the bitter truth about love. At the center of this love story lies the simple, harrowing, internal conflict: Will he abandon love, or will he abandon himself to love? In this sleek, dizzying novel, the terrible battle wages on.

Minna Proctor is a writer and translator. She lives in New York.

Library Journal
Hungarian novelist N das bowed in this country with A Book of Memories, a large and ambitious study of a m nage trois caught up in Eastern European politics. His third novel released here (after The End of a Family) is exactly the opposite: a moment in time, rendered second by excruciating second. Two lovers are captured mid-tryst, the man struggling with his feelings, tense, uncertain, and seemingly on the verge of some decision, the woman examined as if under a microscope. Occasionally, he seems to pass into hallucination; separating the real from the imagined can be difficult. The result is rather more like a concrete poem than fiction and might have worked better in that format; lines are frequently strung across the page, as if the narrator wanted to burst into verse or at least get relief from the claustrophobic surrounding. As a narrative, this curious and demanding work quickly wears, loosening its hypnotic grip and becoming glum and pretentious. Consider where European fiction is collected.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this slight 1979 novel by the acclaimed Hungarian author of A Book of Memories (1997), a nameless lover attempts to leave his mistress, smokes dope and glides soporifically out of"the time which I've up to now believed to be reality," and considers the possibility that this amorphous fugue state makes more tolerable the emotional conflicts imposed by the quotidian. Nothing else happens, in a draggy pseudofiction buttressed with exclamatory redundancy, rhetorical questions, and skewed typography."It feels as if I'm having a conversation with myself," the narrator dreamily observes. Alas, it does—and few readers will be inclined to eavesdrop. Nádas at his best is a lot better than this.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Gimme a pillow."

                    She stands up. Dark foyer behind the glasspaned open door. She leaves the room. I close my eyes. Beyond the room, outside, the small bell of the church clock strikes once, twice. I try to imagine how it sits in space. And also the street, and the church wedged in tightly between the houses across the street. Its tower, rising above the roofs, against the city sky glimmering in reflected neon lights. The house whose top floor I walked up to. The staircase. The apartment on the top floor. The room, the bed. The bed in which I am lying. Some time goes by. I hear the click of the door. She closed it. A plop: the pillow thrown on the bed. I open my eyes. She goes back to the table. I stuff the big pillow under me so that, if she decides to lie down next to me, she'll have plenty of room. She sits down at the table. Like this, with the pillow under my back, I am very comfortable; the comfort of the moment. I can feast my eyes on her. The familiar forms of her body in a green dress. Crackle of cellophane wrapping, she pulls a filter cigarette out of the pack, careful not to bruise the thin paper, picking at the tobacco with a matchstick. The tobacco spills out onto a sheet of paper; it's so quiet one can hear the sound it makes. We've already smoked one, sitting at the table.

    At the table I was sitting in the armchair, half naked. All the paraphernalia on the table. A pack of cigarettes. Grass in a small plastic bag. Scissors, matches. A sheet of clean paper. She takes acigarette out of the pack, then a matchstick from the matchbox. With the match she scoops out the tobacco, careful not to graze the fine paper shell of the cigarette. I am not leaning back. My shirt is on the backrest of the armchair, her green dress spread out over my shirt. She likes to walk around naked; it's hot. The tobacco is spilled out on the sheet of paper. Her breasts tremble imperceptibly, following with a slight delay the rhythm of her movements; the nipples touch the edge of the table. It's good to watch her working like this. When the hull is almost empty, she stands it up in front of her; it rests firmly on its filter base. She leans over it; her nipples get dented by the table's edge. Pinching a bit of grass from the plastic bag, she carefully stuffs it into the hull. Then she takes some regular tobacco, squeezing it between three of her fingers, but the hollowed-out cigarette tips over. She stands it up again. She pours the tobacco into it, adding a dash of grass from the plastic bag. She is packing it all down with the phosphorous end of the matchstick. "Aren't you thirsty?" she asks. A bit more tobacco, some more grass, and finally a few more strands of tobacco, packing it tight with the rounded end of the match. "I'll get you some. In a minute." She rolls the cigarette shell, filled with layers of tobacco and grass, between her palms. She cuts the filter off with the scissors. She looks up, at me. "Gimme my dress." I reach for the green dress. "What for?" She stands up. "People can see into the kitchen." She lifts the dress over her head, the white groove of the scar on her belly tightens, her waist grows narrower, she slips into the dress. I lean back. She leaves the room. From here, from this armchair, the room can be seen really well. The door to the balcony is open.

                                                             I step out on the balcony. It's a little cooler out here. The narrow little street, down in the depths, is empty and dark. All the shadows are in their appropriate places. Actually, I should come right out and say that I won't be coming back here anymore. Some time goes by. The cavernous portal of the church appears to be leading to an underground canal full of sewage water. I know I won't tell her; she is so unsuspecting, I can't do it. I turn around. She is standing in the middle of the room, and I haven't even heard her come back. She is holding two glasses as she stands under the antique chandelier. Lovely. "Doesn't this balcony get on your nerves?" She laughs. Her eyes disappear in the laughter. "I never go out on it!" "This railing is too low not to tempt one into thinking." "About leaping over it, is that what you mean? I never step out on it! I'd open the door, but I've never been out there." "Never?" "Yes. I'm pretty sure, never." I take one of the glasses from her. Lemonade. I drink. I go back and sit down in the armchair, put the glass on the table, it makes a little clinking sound. Talking about such farfetched things doesn't seem to work. Maybe it's better when we talk about nothing in particular. She sits down, facing me, but only at the edge of her chair. She picks up the cigarette, puts it between her lips, and quickly lights up. Too bad, I would have liked us to smoke it while lying in bed. She takes a puff, swallowing the smoke deep into herself. Nothing of the smoke should be wasted. She hands it over. I take a powerful drag. In my mouth, in my throat, the taste is familiar. I'm trying to swallow it as deep as I can. I've an urge to cough; I hand it back to her; she's taking her turn; but I mustn't cough. If I did, I'd waste it all. I close my eyes and imagine, I can feel, the small sacs of my lungs filling up. She coughs and gives back the joint. I have to open my eyes. The joint's burning too fast. I draw hard, it sputters. The smoke rises freely. I bend over it, trying to take it in with my nostrils as well. I'd give the joint to her, but she motions she doesn't want it just now. I get to take two drags. Women know how to make tasty food. The lungs are getting full, they're drinking hard. Slowly I'd let out what's left over, but there is nothing left over. Another pull and I hand it to her. I'd like to lie down on the bed, there to wait for it to happen. I get the joint again. This is the end of it; two, maybe three puffs left in it. The heat of the red ashes on my fingers, and so much smoke is going to waste. I hand it back again, carefully, so she won't burn her hand or my fingers. She sucks on it with her eyes closed; the tiny embers must be burning her lips. A wrong gift. I get up. Take off my pants, throw them on the armchair. Nothing yet. She squashes the roach in the ashtray and coughs out what's left of the smoke. "Would you mind giving me a sheet? I'd like to lie down." She gets up. Steps over to the chest of drawers. On its top, among books, newspapers, and magazines, a kitchen alarm is ticking. She pulls out a drawer, I take the sheet. She shoves the drawer home, it squeaks. I spread the sheet over the bed. I lie down. Where I usually do. Pressing my head and shoulders against the wall, as I usually do. She goes back to the table, sits down. "I'll get the next one ready. All right?" All right." In the lovely light of the chandelier; lovely chandelier; I'd like to withdraw from it; in general, I'd like to withdraw from everything. "Would you mind turning off the light?" She gets up. Walks past the chest of drawers, to the switch. She turns off the light. A wall lamp above me is lit. It's uncomfortable like this, the wall is pressing my shoulders, and the wallpaper is pricking my skin. She seems ready to sit back down at the table. The unpleasantness of bodily sensations may be reduced by comfort. She sits down. "Gimme a pillow."


Meet the Author

Péter Nádas was born in Budapest in 1942. His work has been translated into twelve languages. The author of A Book of Memories (FSG, 1998) and The End of a Family Story (FSG, 1999), he lives in the village of Gombosszeg, Hungary.

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