or 'The Elementary Particles', translated from the French by
Wynne, is one of those novels
which makes a general point about alienation
by making the sex sound alternately clinical and crude, or both at once. Two
half-brothers, Bruno and Michel, drift in and out of each other's lives during
their progress through post-war France, having relationships with women which
are either frantically crass or numbly distant. There
is a scientific element which keeps popping in, either
as part of Michel's life as a professional scientist, or as a dreary way to underline
that religion is dead - discussing people's emotions in terms of evolutionary
and hormonal adaptation, for example.
It says a lot about France and the literary world in
general that such an unoriginal book (author?) has been widely
praised as tremendously original.
The book reminded me vaguely of Trevor Hoyle's late-70s novel
Man Who Travelled on Motorways'.
There are some harshly amusing bits, though most down to crisp abuse, such as calling
Brazil a "shithole", or describing someone as whatever
translates into English as "thick". One idea I did find it good to see said
out loud was that 1960s socioeconomic egalitarianism shifted competition
from material wealth to the sphere of sex.
The ending - a sort of scientific transcendence of sex
- owes a lot more to Aldous Huxley's
New World' (mentioned in 'Atomised' as a
crucial 20th-century text) than Houellebecq admits. The whole book, with its only partly
convincing characters, irritably nihilistic tone of
voice, and stagey set pieces of philosophical discussion between characters, yearns
to live in a world as simplified as the one it says Huxley depicted.
The scientific wrap-up, with cloning as
the solution, makes no sense of course, even within the logic of the book.
A charming village,
with a dangerous mix of hot sun and chilly
shade. The usual sweet children but unusually sweet teachers. They keep pressing
yummy little cakes and sandwiches on us. Classes go well, then finish the
'Tangled Wing' book
Ryan gave me as he left Europe. Review later. Snuffling again by night though.
Phone is back together with me, but does not work from here.
Waking in the night with a scratching cough, I go to the kitchen to find some
garlic and honey. I open the fridge and find - Phone. So I put my own mobile phone
in my own fridge, then totally forgot I had done this. Hmmm.
Apart from being sent to the
wrong railway terminus,
an uneventful trip to Austria by train & coach.
In the evening, finished the copy of Houellebecq's
'Atomised' Elysia recommended. Of which more later.
After limping home to find and lance a blister so large that for a second I
thought I'd grown a sixth toe, I slept like the dead for
eleven hours. Woke this morning to the muffled strains of
electric-organ music from the
over the road. Throat a bit better.
Whole afternoon with
readying interview notes for
FedEx. Met Jim without
having had time to prepare material for his or my lessons starting on Monday.
move an hour
tonight, the little bastards.
Phone is lost. Please come back,
Lectures a bit tricky with sore throat, but not too bad. Long day. Bob from Delaware
pops through town and cheers me up in the evening with tales of
architectural beauty in Transylvania.
Why does walking hurt?
Miklos thrice. 9am, 3pm, 9pm.
Paperwork problems. Where is Phone?
Why am I coughing?
A longish day of
spreadsheet data entry ends in
a tiff. Ah, we're all such sensitive flowers when it
comes to our own feelings.
As I wrap up an evening of data entry, one very very
happy man rolls vigorously around on the floor of the
Internet cellar bar,
like an overjoyed dog.
I try to explain
and voting systems.
Who'll check out
Out at Robin's,
Eva the dentist
comes over with her youngest daughter and a
very small kitten. She ends up driving me to Lakitelek to catch the train back
in. Held back at two level crossings, yet still caught the train.
Exasperating day, but at least a relaxing evening with Mariann
at Gyuri & Margo's converted-attic complex, with wine,
chocolate biscuits, dice games and slide shows. Seems that
(they of the ice cream) give away pairs of dice - one with verbs in red ('lick', 'kiss', 'caress'
etc) and the other with body parts in blue ('knee', 'toe', 'nipple' etc).
Pretty naughty stuff, I agree. Then Margo
started screening what were effectively magic-lantern shows featuring 1970s
Hungarian children's TV and film characters. Small plastic reels wound on by hand
about characters such as SuSu, the dragon Gyorgyi liked, who looks like a 3D
rubber-and-cloth stop-go-animation character of the
era. Susu apparently was a disappointment to his parents, since he was born with
only one head. Back in 2D, one quite alarming story (Mariann read out the captions
at the bottom of each frame) was that of the three clever crows, all called Charles, done
in savage-looking brown-and-grey
cartoon depiction. They get a
brickie to build them a house, but First Charles rejects the idea of a window since
they let in cold, Middle Charles tells the bricklayer they don't want a door since
doors let out heat, and Last Charles treats the builder as an idiot when he's
about to put on the roof. "How are we going to get in and out if you put a roof on?"
he chuckles mockingly. Then they sit on their open-topped brick box being rained on,
wondering if they got something wrong. Not unlike a Charles I used to (do all his
boring) work for.
Back in their kitchen, I found that 2-colour cardboard specs for viewing 3D films
have an extraordinary effect: about every tenth or eleventh object looks iridescent,
as if made out of mother-of-pearl. Is it my not-quite-binocular vision, or something
to do with mixed colours or both? Must consult.
quickly pop into Astoria to drop off and pick up books
at Mr Carlson's's
new book exchange. Dinner with
He gets us talking about the
government's new price cap on branded drugs, his son's university dissertation
on injected foam-plastic insulation for
integrated circuit chips, and his son's
girlfriend, a keen chess evangelist in Hungarian primary schools, enthuses
Fischer's game variations.
Mariann cheers me up when I get back.
Long day. Start off writing six short porno dialogues for a film producer in
south Buda. Then send phone-text
messages to a bunch of telecoms executives I want to interview, interview one
of same executives on phone, do some
business, cry off dinner with Mihaly, write an article about innocent people in prison, write another
article, go to bed, sleep.
Back in town in the late evening, I'm translating an overlong questionnaire
in the local cellar Internet bar
when a small fight breaks out next to the computer I'm using. Without
warning, a man walks in from the room with the pool tables and punches a man
sitting at the bar in the neck several times before being dragged off. All over
in seconds. Then both parties sit around complaining for the next two hours.
sawing wood, distant barking dog.
The empty plain still pretty
Olga explains her health fast.
Ryan leaves. Then Pomaz by night.
Encouragement from abroad.
Ryan unexpectedly needs help packing numbered boxes before Customs come at 6am.
By the small hours his hallway looks like a
Carl Andre installation.
Becoming addicted to those buttery-warm, fluffy little pastry things with cherry filling
from the stall
on Moszkva ter.
Eszter invites me to my first Ribbon Ball, an event where Hungarian teenagers
celebrate graduating from secondary school with.... formation dancing.
The main hall of the
(oh yes there is) was packed with
proud parents (I found Olga eventually) watching their sons and daughters getting
ribbons and being photographed from about 6 to 7.30pm. Then the dancing began.
Students in Tyrolean costumes and green hats skipped around to the sounds of
Austrian slager, a strange medley of
involved black suits and imaginary guns, while Eszter was in a rather
polished Chicago jazz thing. Then Viennese waltzing (Eszter again) with the
lights going down at intervals so that in the UV lamps we only saw ghostly
teardrop cones, instead of girls in white bustle ballgowns, gliding around.
24 teachers did a sharp Latin dance, surprisingly in time, and
then more waltzing. Scores of pretty girls in radical evening wear
not necessarily good for my soul, of course.
Invited afterwards by Mariann to a house in remotest
where Gabor and Ivett were
celebrating their ninth successful day in a large new house brought to them
by the power of feng shui
and positive thinking. Mariann and Ivett, a psychologist and
took me upstairs to the therapy room and made me lie down so their
could wiggle me for a bit, filling my legs apparently with lots of positive
chi. Cheery Gabor,
gardener for Hungary's only
British WWII cemetery
(215 pilots shot down), showed me
photos of his
and other gardens he had designed, the 1941
tenor saxophone he
lovingly restored and plays big-band jazz on, and pressed champagne and Stella
Artois on me, while playing me his
Quite quickly tipsy, I was roped into throwing darts at Gabor's
electronic talking dartboard, and though there was a vague impression I was not
taking the game entirely seriously, the Hungarians were all much too polite to
mention it. They all had better aim than me, tipsy or not. Their plump black cat,
Nirvana, wore a beautiful blue ribbon, just like the school-leavers earlier.
Kind Eszter &
Olga make me feel entertaining.
Writers' group at Esther's new flat. I overindulge on beer, crisps & oranges
& Esther tackle
rather good TV-drama synopsis.
Praise be, citizens!
Phone lives again!
Phone still not working. Please e-mail me.
Mobile phone is ill. I can't read any messages.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
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