(Author: Laszlo Krasznahorkai) + (Year: 1985) + (Goodreads)
(Around the World: Hungary)
I don’t even know what rating to give to this book. Should I rate the style of the book? The ability of the author? How it made me feel? The world it shows? I don’t know the answer to that question, so I’m just giving a rating which is… just. It’s even possible that I will revisit the review and change it.
If you’re wondering why I start this review with such uncertainty, it is because of the book itself. Satantango is undoubtedly one of the most challenging books to classify in any way. It is a snarl of dehumanized humans and vivid bleakness and full emptiness.
Satantango tells the story of a small Hungarian village at the beginning of a rainy, cold and muddy winter. The characters are in a constant state of suspended development. Their world does not extend beyond the borders of the property they inhabit. Their dreams, passions and motivations have gone out like a candle, and have been replaced by a total confusion, lack of morale and ruled by an “unbearable lightness”.
The people in this novel are tangibly human, with earthly passions and desires which don’t go beyond the physical, but at the same time, they have left the realm of the living and have turned into ghosts in a cold ghost town. Every character is fighting with their own deep, dark and moldy existence. From the doctor who is living in an alcohol daze of his own filth, to a desperate abandoned little girl, so thirsty for attention and love that is willing to cause harm to others and herself, to the gossiping women, the greedy men, the pointlessness and the deep void of them being not quite alive.
The story, told in long, unbroken paragraphs of fractured events, develops from two different main sides, the villagers, all of them intertwined, telling the same story of their sad, miserable life, and Irimias, the mysterious, charming man that they all crave to be, crave to be with, or crave to follow. Irimias is just a small middleman between the ruling power and the peasants, however, in the eyes of the latter, he is a ruler in his own right, a gentleman, a force of nature. They let themselves be enticed and outsmarted by Irimias, and not for any other reason, but because in their eyes, he is alive, where they aren’t.
Krasznahorkai‘s writing in undoubtedly beautiful, but in a very unsettling, and even upsetting way; absurd and confusing. He pays a lot of attention to the small details, the mold in the cracks, the rips in the clothing, the dirt under the nails, while at the same time telling a story which is both simple, and infinitely convoluted. I wouldn’t say that he’s an easy author to read in the slightest. The reader is in a constant state of alertness, because at the same time so much is happening and nothing is happening, so one missed line of text could equal an entire story.
While I did like, and at the same time felt very burdened by this book, I’m not sure I will revisit Krasznahorkai’s novels. One, for sure, is worth reading, but closing yourself in this dark, empty and scary world is not something that I want to volunteer for.