John Clute reviews Michal Ajvaz

Over at Strange Horizons, John Clute takes a look at the works of Czech novelist Michal Ajvaz:

The first thing that comes to mind on reading Michal Ajvaz’s seemingly dryasdust novels is water, water as a verb: water in motion, stealth watersheds urging readers into silent-running apprehension of hero flows of story beneath the desert sands of mitteleuropean discourse, secret but still musical within the blood of reading. Although The Other City and The Golden Age seem ostentatiously to eschew any structuring hints of narrative heroism—Ajvaz has made it clear he does not want to the reader to be reminded of Magic Realism in his work, that his texts do not valorize any hero bearer of sigils out of the swamp nor any origin tale at the heart of the delta of tales untold—the first thing that comes to mind on reading Ajvaz is story. But maybe that is what this reviewer always says.

Whatever. Like Karel Čapek, whose most famous titles, RUR and War with the Newts, are also water-drenched, Michal Ajvaz (pronounced EYE-voz) comes from the part of Czechoslovakia that eventually, after World War Two dry-gulched Čapek’s world, became the current Czech Republic: a land which, through all its border changes, has been land-locked. There should be nothing procrustean here: I think a longing for words in motion rings deep in our blood; and it does seem entirely natural that Czech writers seem to have incorporated a kind of narrative meme into the body English of their deepest fictions, a linguistically isolated island-shaped enclave of Czech locked inside the mountains of Middle Europe, almost literally afloat, rain-drenched, snow-covered, like a corpuscle, or an ark. Moreover, both Čapek and Ajvaz are writers whose works specifically drown in sussurant, shadow-puppet Prague, a city which can only really be seen as if through mirrors bathed in their medium: snow-triangles on the gargoyles, the river winding everywhere beneath, rain tintinnabulating down the runnels of the city, every intersection a snowglobe.

Read the rest of the review.


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