Death. Taxes. Krasznahorkai: The Man Booker International Prize Gets It Right

on Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Listen carefully. Hear that faint whirring? Yes, that one. It is the sound of Benjamin Franklin spinning furiously in his grave. No doubt you are familiar with Ol' Ben's great saying about the only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Had he been alive today he might have added a few more: Meryl Streep Oscar nominations. Stephen King novels. Conspiracy theories. My complete inability to correctly pick the winner of a major literary prize. But wait! Could it be that the very essence of certainty has been turned on its head? Could we just have been tossed headlong into a stormy sea of doubt? Could the Man Booker International Prize have changed life as we know it? Cue existential crisis.

Today, one of my all time favourite writers, Laszlo Krasznahorkai - a man who is as dense and difficult to read as his name is to say three times fast - was named the 2015 recipient of what I have often said is the most pointless prize going these days. Time to reconsider, methinks. Sure, I like to moan about it as the Diet Dr. Pepper of literary prizes. And, yes, it comes with all the fanfare of a royal procession through Glasgow. But I can't help but feel it is the only one that consistently gets it right. Thus far it has been awarded to well-deserving writers who, for some godforsaken reason, the folk at Nobel overlook in favour of... well... Tomas Transtromer. Just look at the honour roll: Ismail Kadare. Chinua Achebe. Alice Munro. Philip Roth. Lydia Davis. And now, icing on the cake, the truly awesome Krasznahorkai.

To be honest, I'd totally forgotten about the shortlist. Back in March I picked him to win, assumed the worst and moved on with life. Now I get to see what I only thought a dream actually come true: "I just love the idea of sycophantic Booker types trying to make sense of Krasznahorkai's nightmare vision or even wading through the thick primal sludge of his prose. Oh the joy!". Come tomorrow, there will be a lot of very confused Booker loyalists sitting on the train scratching their heads. Soon thereafter the trains will be filled with goopy brain matter from said heads exploding. Moral of the story: Walk to work tomorrow.

For those who have yet to experience the near religious enlightenment that comes with picking up one of his books I recommend starting with Satantango. The Devil turns up in a remote village and systematically tears it to pieces. Happy dance (I just added that so you didn't think it too bleak). It's a damned hard read (see what I did there?) and, of course, deeply disturbing but it is about as good a debut as any author has ever written. Follow that up with the most dense, difficult nightmare of a book I've read, The Melancholy of Existence, and you are sure to reach a higher literary plain. You'll also never visit a circus again.

Hopefully I haven't turned you off reading him. The guy is actually quite delightful. I had the absolute pleasure/privilege of seeing him in conversation with Colm Toibin in New York last year and he was funny, charming and really quite cool. Indeed, he seemed the very picture of the thoughtful, classical European novelist. He also read a new short story which was one of the best things I've heard in a long time.

All in all, Krasznahorkai continues to produce perfectly crafted, challenging and unique works that might alienate the lazy reader but will reward those who persist in a way many other writers simply cannot. More works are currently being translated and will published by New Directions in the not-too-distant future. With this win lifting his profile in the English-speaking world you have a few months at best to catch up.

Now if only this could mean Ben was wrong about the other certainties. I need a holiday. And to plan for my 300th birthday.


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