Thursday 29 May 2014

Metropole - Ferenc Karinthy

Well then..... I have to say that having finished reading Metropole a few days ago, and having thought long and hard about it, I will still struggle to explain just what happens. Thankfully I think this confusion is the point so I'm not left feeling too stuupid..... after all if Budai, the central character (and the only character to actually have a fixed name), can go through the whole story without having a clue what is happening then so can I. Budai is a, presumably Hungarian, linguist on his way to a conference in Helsinki; anyone who has read earlier reviews will know that the combination of Hungary and Finland is going to be a winning one for me. However thanks to a mix up at the airport, maybe he gets on the wrong plane, maybe it gets redirected Budai never knows; when he gets to his destination Hotel Budai realises that it's not Helsinki. In fact he has no idea where he is, or quite how he got there. He tries out his considerable linguistic skills on staff at the hotel, but they are unable or unwilling to understand him, and he can't recognise the language at all. Budai spends weeks exploring this strange unrecognisable city, trying to find someone who can understand him, someone who will help him get home. He wanders the streets, which are always packed full of brusque crowds, trying to find some transport hub that could help him leave; by this point he is keen to get to any location where he can at least recognise the language, but all he finds is a metro that allows him to travel further but offers no chance of leaving the city. With his funds swiftly running out, he forms a connection with the only person in the city who seems willing to even acknowledge him as a fellow human, the lift operator. Unfortunately despite her willingness to connect with Budai, he is unable to even pin down what her name is, ranging variously from Epepe, Dede, Bebpe etc etc etc..... he also encounters a never ending skyscraper that I guess is a stand in for the Tower of Babel. Finally, as his funds run out and his hotel evicts him, Budai finds himself on the street, working as a porter and confronting a breakdown in social order which is all the more terrifying because he is still at a total loss as to what anyone is saying around him. Budai comes up against an incomprehensible and uncaring bureaucracy again and again in a manner that reminded me of both Kafka's The Trial and Claudel's The Investigation. In fact the descriptions of the violent and bustling crowds on the street seemed to link so closely to Claudel, that apart from the issues of language you could almost believe that they share a setting.
I wouldn't advise reading this if you want a story with a strong plot, there is a plot here, but it is at times as confused as Budai himself is, and takes on an almost dreamlike sense sometimes. Nor would I advise reading this if you are likely to become annoyed by Budai's constant self absorbed whining, he is not a terribly sympathetic character and is, in fact something of an idiot. However something about this odd little book kept me reading, at times I wasn't 100% sure what was happening to Budai, but still I was interested enough to keep turning the pages.... I wanted Budai to make it home, I wanted him to figure out where he was, how he got there, why a man had been seen on the Metro with a vintage edition of a Hungarian newspaper. I wanted answers damn it! Did I get them? Not really, the reader is left in the same position as Budai, but still I felt like I had experienced something bizarre, slightly surreal and very interesting indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment