Title: The World Goes On
Author: László Krasznahorakai (translated from the Hungarian by John Bakti, Ottilie Mulzet and Georges Szirtes
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Tuskar Books/Profile Books
Published: 18th December, 2017
Synopsis: A new work of fiction from the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.
A Hungarian interpreter obsessed with waterfalls, at the edge of the abyss in his own mind, wanders the chaotic streets of Shanghai. A traveller, reeling from the sights and sounds of Varanasi, encounters a giant of a man on the banks of the Ganges ranting on the nature of a single drop of water. A child labourer in a Portuguese marble quarry wanders off from work one day into a surreal realm utterly alien from his daily toils.
In The World Goes On, a narrator first speaks directly, then tells twenty-one unforgettable stories, and then bids farewell (‘for here I would leave this earth and these stars, because I would take nothing with me’). As Laszlo Krasznahorkai himself explains: ‘Each text is about drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought or a narrative…’
The World Goes On is another masterpiece by the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. ‘The excitement of his writing,’ Adam Thirlwell proclaimed in the New York Review of Books, ‘is that he has come up with his own original forms – there is nothing else like it in contemporary literature.’
In a series of short stories, an unnamed narrator, a Hungarian interpreter, and other travellers, take a journey across various nations and exploring a dark and what feels like a metaphysical side to humanity whilst taking the physical journey. Each of the twenty short stories is told in first person, with no inkling as to who is telling the story or indeed if any narrator is different: it all feels like the same narrator, dipping in and out of lives, times and places to tell stories of oblivion and hopelessness, where the title, once each story has come to its inevitable conclusion, lives up to its reputation – that once the narrator, or multiple narrators have completed their story, the world does indeed move on to the next story.
As each story is different, yet feels like it has the same narrator, it can be confusing at first, but once you’ve read the beginning, it starts to come together, albeit in many lengthy sentences, some of which appear to go on for pages at a time, and give a feeling of breathlessness, and claustrophobia – perhaps this is what the author was going for, the helpless feeling of not knowing where to stop to take a breath between punctuation marks, and the sense of what is happening in your life and the world rushing so fast at you, that your thoughts come out so quickly, there’s no time to pause, or take breath sometimes. This was how I felt reading this, which is why it has taken so long to finish it and review it – there were times the lengthy sentences, though they worked and made sense, could bring on a sense of dizziness and breathlessness – though the concept and ideas have been well executed.
It is also rather philosophical, with hints towards historical events, people and places, but at the same time, feeling sort of out of place, or as though what was happening could be happening anywhere.
Whilst this has not been my favourite read, I can appreciate what the author has done, and hope that there will be people who will enjoy this book.