Twi­light of the Idols

The London Magazine - - WILL STONE -

Inside the head of Bruno Schulz, by

Pushkin Press, 2015, 128 pp. £10 Sum­mer be­fore the dark by trans­lated by

Pushkin Press, 2016, 176 pp. £12.99 (hard­back) The in­flu­ence of the Pol­ish writer and poly­math, Bruno Schulz, shows no sign of fad­ing. Mys­te­ri­ous and in­her­ently tragic, he con­tin­ues to be a peren­nial source of in­spi­ra­tion for today’s artists, film­mak­ers and writ­ers. In some cases this verges on in­fat­u­a­tion, as each lit­er­ary pan­han­dler jos­tles to stake their claim in the post-war Schulz gold rush. Nov­el­ists such as David Grossman, Philip Roth, Danilo Kiš, and Sal­man Rushdie have all based fic­tional cre­ations on the se­duc­tively haunting bio­graph­i­cal fig­ure of Schulz. Now the Ger­man writer Maxim Biller has joined the rev­er­ence pro­ces­sion, with this cu­ri­ous un­set­tling novella which one can and for max­i­mum ef­fect per­haps should, read in a sin­gle sit­ting.

The premise is that Schulz, or ‘Bruno’ as Biller, like Gross­mann in his Holo­caust epic Sea un­der Love, refers to him, is strug­gling to write a let­ter to No­bel Prize win­ner Thomas Mann, to ex­plain to the great writer that an un­likely shab­bily-dressed, seedy-look­ing im­poster by the same name has ap­peared in his home town of Dro­hobycz, os­ten­si­bly re­search­ing ma­te­rial for a new work of fic­tion. Schulz, the Jew, se­cluded in his base­ment which acts like a cav­ernous pro­jec­tion of his own mind, senses this un­canny stranger’s ar­rival as an omi­nous threat to his rou­tine, a pre­science of some evil to come (the re­al­ity of which we can eas­ily guess, even if we might not imag­ine Schulz’s ac­tual dread­ful de­noue­ment). The reader soon sees that Schulz, stag­nat­ing and fret­ting in his room where ‘stale twi­light still reigned’ is prey to the most ex­treme mor­bid fears, or rather ‘fear’ it­self, which be­comes a dom­i­nat­ing char­ac­ter in its own right, a sort of giant man

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