Hailed as a surprisingly mature first volume, Unhappiness at the Aurora Housing Estate (2014) is a collection of fourteen short stories organized in three cycles. The narrators and main characters of these stories are often intellectuals – students, artists, scholars – and other middle-class characters who are trying to find their place in the world. Many of them are frustrated and self-reflective, intent on changing their lives and achieving happiness and success, yet more often than not they fail to do so. Their strategies and the difficulties they face are described with an irony and sharpness that does not spare anyone yet seems to understand everyone, from the successful performance artist to the grandmother who feels unloved by her family.
In some of the stories, the conflict between East and West, or between Budapest and the rest of the country appears as one of the causes of the characters’ inability to find their identity. Mán-Várhegyi is at her best when she describes intellectuals and artists who are hovering between East and West, like the performance artist in “The Weight of Inspiration,” disdained as an overentitled rich woman in Hungary and admired as a wild Eastern European in the US.
The stories that end each cycle are stories of Kafkaesque transformations in which the narrator wakes up in another body: a woman becomes Lionel Messi (“Woman Striker Has Killer Left Foot“), a three-year-old boy believes he is a woman (“Root”), someone becomes her own grandmother (“Good Faith, Bad Luck”).
In Mán-Várhegyi’s stories, there are no big conflicts or traumas, only the unhappiness and hopelessness of everyday life, narrated in a provocative yet natural, steady-paced, non-triumphalist tone.
We’ll leave our mum and dad behind, we’ll leave their poverty and their slothfulness, their gestures and their misery all behind.
ISBN 978 963 88 4789 8
published by József Attila Kör / prae.hu, 2014
Italian, Spider and Fish