Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

Review of Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

Journey by MoonlightMy Hungarian colleague, Botond, lent me this book. In his afterword, the translator, Len Rix, says that a friend had pressed the book on him, saying, ‘Every educated Hungarian knows and loves this book.’ The novel was originally published in 1937, and Szerb himself lived through the First World War and the communist revolution as a teenager and, being Jewish by ancestry, died in a forced-labour camp in the Second World War.

The main character of Journey by Moonlight is Mihály (pronounced something like ‘me high’), a gauche, introverted man who is haunted by his adolescent relationships with the beautiful siblings Tamás and Éva, thoughts of death and suicide, and his bourgeois upbringing. To try to finally lay these ghosts to rest and assimilate himself into the conventional world he spends years working in the family business and finally marries Erzsi – who is also troubled by her relationship to conventional society.

Of course, it all goes wrong – very quickly, in fact, while they’re still on honeymoon in Italy. And thus begins a kind of odyssey as Mihály travels hither and thither, meets old acquantances and vacillates back and forth between pursuing different desires.

It would be easy to imagine that this novel would ultimately be annoying or too dry, but it’s written with a quite postmodern sense of irony and a kind of inevitability that is carried off with a light touch and is thus never quite certain. The reader is taken into the minds of the central characters, but an authorial voice provides objective insights into Mihály and Erzsi’s weaknesses.

The plot could be likened to a labyrinth – Mihály’s journey is an inner one and one that has only one route through it. The story seems to lead towards a realisation of Mihály immature fantasies of death, but the conclusion is a textbook example of bathos – and entirely apposite.

In short, Journey by Moonlight is a fascinating, masterfully-crafted and eminently readable book.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
  1. 26 September 2008 at 3:56 am

    Me high :))

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