Edina Szvoren’s fifth collection of distinctive short stories maintains the uniformly high standard of writing that we have come to expect from her. This volume nonetheless differs from the previous ones in that here the keynote of its unmistakably grotesque, absurd style is more playful, more humorous, and more light-hearted than in her earlier work.
In its structure, too, this volume is unusual. Sentences on Wonderment consists of three parts: an introductory piece only a few pages long; the “Ohrwurm notes”; and seven fairly long short stories.
In the volume’s title piece the narrator declares that for as long as she can remember, she has been incapable of wonderment because, in her view, anything can happen at any time. But since people expect that she should always be surprised, she tries constantly to pretend that she is indeed in a state of wonderment.
The twenty-nine pieces of the “Ohrwurm notes” – each no more than a few pages long – mirror our everyday world, which is nonetheless extraordinary, dominated as it is by compulsions, mysterious happenings, and curious ways of behaviour. Among these writings we find grotesque tableaux, such as “The blind folk in the cable car”, in which a blind couple enjoy their trip in a cable car heedless of anyone else. There are also parodies: “Bereg baroque” is a caricature of a piece that popularises a work of art, while “Fly-swatters on a human scale” parodies techniques of pseudo-scientific argumentation. There are also grotesque portraits: in one text we encounter a man who “makes curtain arguments”, that is to say, he has an extremely irritating habit of applying a metaphor about curtains in every kind of situation; in another, a woman whose days are spent taking security measures which ensure that a tiny creature terrified of her is able to escape; while “Horse panic”, as its title suggests, is about the many ways in which horses can fall into a panic. Some of the pieces are allegorical and dreamlike, while others are sinister; yet others are irresistibly humorous – but they all bear the hallmarks of Szvoren’s unique style.
As for the seven long stories, each tells a tale that has at its core the strange and difficult nature of human relations: relationships with parents, relatives, friends, and marriage partners. Often it is a tiny individual detail – a characteristic turn of phrase, an unnoticed, ingrained habit, an apparently insignificant gesture repeated for the hundredth time – that hints at what made a relationship fall apart, what was the misunderstanding, frustration, or human frailty that made an entire relationship turn sour and petty.
As the critic Sarolta Deczki has noted: “Edina Szvoren performs what is one of the most important duties of art: she teaches us how to see, or – to be more precise – to see in a different way. It is impossible to imagine a more withering critique of society than dissecting it in this way, almost molecule by molecule, dispassionately and objectively. It is precisely because of this approach, thanks to her close attention to the minutest of details, that this world becomes surreal, grotesque and hence a critique of its very self.”
ISBN 978 963 14 2357 0
2021, hard cover with jacket
256 pages, 3499 HUF
Wonderment is a crack into which you can thrust your foot.