Sunday 30 April 2017

Liquidation by Imre Kertész    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Man, when reduced to nothing, or in other words a survivor, is not tragic but comic, because he has no fate. This is a paradox, which manifests in him, a writer, simply as a problem of style.” The absence in the heart of this novel is a supposed novel written by B, presumably concerning B’s childhood in Auschwitz (Kertesz himself was an Auschwitz survivor), but not able to be located amongst B’s papers by his friend, editor and literary executor, Kingbitter, after B’s suicide. Just as the absent novel dominates this novel, the absent B dominates the other characters and their relationships with each other: Kingbitter, reader at a publishing house about to close; Judit, his ex-wife and Kingbitter’s ex-lover; Sarah, his lover and wife of Kurti. The novel opens in the third person as Kingbitter reads a play found among B’s papers accurately describing conversations that happened after his suicide a decade ago. Kingbitter’s memory of the actual events and B’s work of literature depicting them (or predicting them) proceed in tandem until the novel switches into the first person as Kingbitter describes how he was subsumed by B to the extent that Kingbitter becomes the passive reporter on the events of B’s life and the circumstances of his suicide. Kingbitter surmises that B. kept contact with Judit, a doctor, who supplied him morphine, and confronts her. The novel switches first into third person again, and then to her narration as she addresses her new husband and explains how she burnt, unread, the novel B. sent her on his suicide with a letter requesting her to do so. Kingbitter is excluded from this narration and unaware of it, and the book eventually, after tarrying in B’s play version of the life that continued without him, returns to Kingbitter again in the third person. B’s Auschwitz novel, though absent, though destroyed, though impossible in any case, is still the animating force of this one, which, after all, is about the impact of Auschwitz upon B’s life and idea of life, and upon those who knew him. A suspicion develops in the reader, though it has of course been there right from the start, that B is in fact the author of this novel and that Kingbitter is merely a character, and that perhaps Liquidation is the novel B has left behind after his suicide after all, a novel projecting the impact of his death. “Only from our stories can we discover that our stories have come to an end, otherwise we would go on living as if there were still something to continue (our stories, for example); that is, we would go on living in error.”

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