Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 25, 2017

The Lost Pages, by Marija Peričić (Vogel winner 2017)

While I do enjoy the sense of belonging that comes with reading novels that feature Australian life, I like the direction the Vogel Prize seems to have taken over the last year or so.  Last year we had The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon (see my review) and this year ventures into the wider world too with the award going to Marija Peričić’s novel The Lost Pages.  Set in 1908 in what is now the Czech Republic, it’s a brave reimagining of the relationship between Franz Kafka and his literary editor Max Brod, and it develops an unstoppable momentum as the pages fly by towards an ending that I definitely did not foresee.

Readers do not need to know anything at all about Kafka or his works.  To the contrary, I would beseech them not to find out more about Brod and Kafka before reading the book.  That’s because this novel is primarily a novel about a very strange relationship, exploring both the nature of literary celebrity as it was in the early 20th century in Europe, and also the psychological trauma of an intense but one-side rivalry between two notable authors.  Read it on its own terms without going on a fact-hunt.

Jealousy and obsession are the twin themes of The Lost Pages as Brod the successful writer becomes aware of the exciting young author Kafka.  The novel is framed as a memoir which purports to be from the (real-life) hoard of papers that Brod, after Kafka’s death, refused to consign to the flames as instructed.  This conceit of the fictional memoir is buttressed by the structure: the novel is bookended by a foreword purporting to be from a scholar excited about the long-desired release of the papers, and an editor’s afterword.  Scattered throughout the text there are duplicitous footnotes about the often deplorable condition of these papers.

CAUTION: MINOR SPOILERS

The Brod of these papers is deformed in mind and body.  I liked the way that the truth about his misshapen body is revealed only after he has become an attractive man in the reader’s mind.  He tells us that success has brought the attention of women, but he also eventually tells us about the enormous physical effort and his sartorial tricks that force his palsied body into a semblance of normality.  But his confidence is shattered as he reads Kafka’s stories and he begins to believe that he himself is the model for the alienated characters in a surreal world.  He is distraught when he reads Metamorphosis, the famous story about Gregor who wakes up one day to find that he has become a monstrous cockroach that arouses revulsion all around him.

His jealousy of his social and literary rival is exacerbated by the prevailing belief that he is Kafka’s great friend and has some power over the elusive new author.  His publisher is, of course, desperate to sign the rising star.  He blackmails Brod into luring Kafka, using Brod’s failure to meet his deadlines for his next book while his mind deteriorates under his twin obsessions, Kafka and the lovely but unattainable Anja.

So there is much to admire about this novel.  Of note is the sensitive way Peričić writes about Brod’s deformity, especially the beautiful sequence where he escapes his mother’s over-protectiveness and teaches himself to swim by watching others do it.

I had no idea what to do with my legs.  All I could see of the swimmers’ legs was a fizzing wake that seemed to propel them forward.  My legs were the weakest part of me.  At first, when I tried to kick off from the riverbed they would drift behind me like a heavy train, floating for a short while but then slowly sinking down to the sandy bottom again.  I experimented with different movements: I tried rotating my legs as though on a bicycle, in time with my arms, or rotating my feet in tiny circles.  It was extremely difficult for me to control my right leg, which was only a soft spongy thing, lacking any muscle.  Eventually I hit upon the notion of kicking my legs up and down, and I practised this motion first holding onto the tree trunk, which had become like a friend to me, its knots and footholds familiar and reassuring.  Over the weeks of that summer I slowly learned to propel myself along.

Soon I could even swim a few strokes underwater, my belly gliding close above the riverbed.  I came up laughing; it was like flying, and for the first time in my life I did not feel restricted in space. I floated and rolled around in the river’s grip, and my limbs, glowing white through the dark water, no longer seemed to be the objects of pity. (p. 190)

A worthy winner of the Vogel!

Author: Marija Peričić
Title: The Lost Pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN: 9781760296865
Purchased from Dymocks, $29.99

Available from Fishpond: Vogel Winner 2017

 


Responses

  1. “While I do enjoy the sense of belonging that comes with reading novels that feature Australian life…” I agree. But as you imply, we can hardly chide Australian writers for wanting to play on the World stage, even though they obviously struggle to gain the attention that writers based in London and New York do.


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: