This book was mentioned I think three times in the last few weeks in things I read. Milan Kundera discusses it in The Art of the Novel, Annie Dillard discusses it in Living by Fiction, and Vladimir Nabokov mentions it in an essay of the four greatest prose novels of the 20th century…he doesn’t count this one, but it gets a kind of honorable mention.
So, I have now read it. And I am not entirely sure what to do with that. It’s most obvious connections to me are Kafka, Nabokov, Heinrich Mann, Stefan Zweig, and Sologub, but if you told me none of those were read by Gombrowicz, I would have to believe you and sort of just say ok, I guess. The novel is a kind of weird fever dream/nightmarescape where an intelligent man well past his school days is transported to a prep school where he faces down effete and ineffectual teachers and truly nightmarish bullies. He is in a kind of prison of his own making, but he’s also not incredibly bent on getting out. There’s also some lengthy discussions on the nature of art and writing, that I think are actually pretty interesting, and then some weird little fictional vignettes diving into European mythic history. There’s already a lot of question surrounding the translation of this novel within the opening sections which suggest that it’s one of those books that since I don’t speak or read Polish, there’s only so much I am going to be able to get out of this one. And that’s fine. I was interested by it as I was reading, but I wasn’t thrilled or excited by it or by finishing it. But it’s there, on a shelf now.