Twilight of the Idols
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