Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Last Wolf and Herman by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

The Last Wolf and Herman by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
The Last Wolf was first published in Hungarian as Az utolso farkas in 2009. English language translation by George Szirtes published in 2009. Herman was first published in Hungarian as Hegyelmi Viszonyok in 1986. English language translation by John Batki in 2016. Collection published together by Tuskar Rock Press in the UK in 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Last Wolf, a philosophy professor is mistakenly hired to write the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. His miserable experience is narrated in a single, rolling sentence to a patently bored bartender in a dreary Berlin bar. 

In Herman, a master trapper is asked to clear a forest's last 'noxious beasts.' Herman begins with great zeal, although in time he switches sides, deciding to track entirely new game... In Herman II, the same events are related from the perspective of strange visitors to the region, a group of hyper-sexualised aristocrats who interrupt their orgies to pitch in with the manhunt of poor Herman...

These intense, perfect novellas, full of Krasznhorkai's signature sense of foreboding and dark irony, are perfect examples of his craft.

On finishing reading The Last Wolf and Herman, I initially gave the book a four star rating because, while I loved both the novellas - or actually all three because Herman comprises of two novellas each telling the same story, but from wildly different perspectives - it took a while for everything to settle in my mind and, as Virginia Woolf so eloquently put it (in How Should One Read A Book?), for the true shape of the book to emerge. I saw that The Last Wolf and Herman had won the Man Booker International Prize and I had wondered how much that was influenced by the complex nature of Krasznahorkai's prose. The Last Wolf, for example, is a novella in one sentence! Admittedly it is a superlatively long sentence which, for someone like me who also tends to write in overlong sentences, would have been a perfect rebuke to my school English teacher, however it was daunting to begin with. Once I got into the style though I loved The Last Wolf and the single sentence device works wonderfully to illustrate how the babbling Professor is semi-drunkenly recounting his fantastic tale to a bored bartender who cannot escape him. I could clearly picture the Berlin bar and appreciated the extreme contrast between that claustrophobic setting and that of the wide Extremadura landscapes with which I am familiar although, sadly, only since the autopistas arrived.

Herman is an inspired idea for a mirrored tale and I didn't realise, until I came to write my review, just how long ago this story was written. It has a timelessness to it that really works alongside its portrait of a former animal trapper who goes rogue when he has a revelation about the life he has led up to that point and a way in which he can make amends. Krasznahorkai gets deeply into Herman's mental state so, while this is a grim tale due to the cruelties described, I found myself beginning to actually care about Herman - until the viewpoint switches anyway!

The more I think about these stories, the more I realise just how accomplished they are! Well worth a read for fans of quirky, darker fiction and experimental writing.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Laszlo Krasznahorkai / Novellas / Books from Hungary

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