Thursday 2 April 2015

Embers by Sándor Márai
A single breath tale for a day like today, with a poor night's sleep behind me, and strong gusts from the northwest pushing rain sideways across windows the way it is pushed upwards on the windows of a plane. Embers is the right thing to read and yet comfortless: the old General in his castle who has waited forty-one years to ask the friend of his youth two questions that, in the event, his friend chooses not to answer, and, in truth, does not need to answer.

I wish the main voice were not that of a General, and yet, for the balance of the tale and the era in which it takes place – the first half of the twentieth century – it has to be the voice of a General, or some such privileged person smack in the middle of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I also wish he didn't have to be in a castle in the middle of a forest with a couple of faithful retainers, though usually the middle of a forest would seem a fine place to be.

Sometimes the raw sad things a novel strives to say look absurdly simple, or maybe this is my insomnia speaking. We seek our twin who turns out to be our opposite, to be Other, that is, in this book, musical rather than military, and then we wait for death. There is no satisfactory conclusion, only the onward flow of language, the understanding now and then that for some creatures the only way emotion can emerge is over very many years and between the rules of engagement.

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