Masthead | Contributors | Submissions | Archives | Subscribe

 

Book Reviews

GLORIOUS NEMESIS by Ladislav Klíma

by Richard Jackson

image

‘He was a social democrat and a fool, but may the Lord grant him eternal glory.’

There is a moment in Ladislav Klíma’s previous novel from Twisted Spoon Press, The Sufferings of Prince, where the poor prince, an aristocrat and favourite of the German Kaiser, is visited by a hostile ghost.  A woman, thought to be killed by Sternenhoch’s own hand, harasses him: “You thought you were rid of me, but I’m going to keep on hounding you!  Ha ha ha, you bastard”.  It is a pity then, that the protagonists in Glorious Nemesis had not read Sternenhoch’s epistolary tale of misfortune, for it would have served them well, as those whom exist with Klíma’s supercelestial worlds seem to need all the help they can find.

In Glorious Nemesis, we encounter the hallucinatory and troubled existence of Sider.  Beginning the novella as a handsome twenty-eight-year -ld man of privilege, albeit one predestined to endure a ‘terrible fate’, Klíma soon takes his poor hero on a balladic journey of nightmarish misdemeanours – with unfortunate consequences.  Echoing the Czech author’s own complex life, Sider’s story – part bildungsroman fable, part philosophical study – is designed to enchant, confound, please and distress even the most discerning and resilient of readers.  And it succeeds.

Set amidst the forever-grey skies and ‘glacier lit’ peaks of the Tyrolean Alps, Sider is enticed to stay in the majestic Alpine town of Cortona.  Though lacking an understanding of the local language and customs, his fate becomes indelibly linked to this ‘bewitching place’, one that seemed from the outset ‘so mysteriously familiar to him’.  As with Prince Sternenhoch, Klíma’s young male alter-egos tend to be infuriatingly naïve, often exhibiting a hyperbolic sensitivity and an exhausting feeling of restlessness.  Sider, after settling in Cortona, promptly becomes susceptible to a ‘growing nausea’, a fear that ‘crept into his soul and seemed to be rapidly setting down permanent roots’.  Only a few pages into Glorious Nemesis, Sider is ready to leave the town.  That is, until he chances upon two women:

‘Their resemblance to one another, though remote, was uncanny.  Some-thing palpitating and delicate, demonically ethereal veiled both their pallid visages, something he had not seen in a woman’s face before.  But from the face of the younger woman in blue it glared, thundered incomparably more powerfully ... She was about twenty years old, tall, slim.  Pretty?  Something too chilling emanated from her too pale, thin, yet entirely classically formed features, predatory yet affectionate, horrifying in their spectral ghastliness and ferocity and also – an inhuman, superhuman, tenderness.  Perhaps she was more than pretty – in other words, to the ordinary eye she was not beautiful – every magnificent beauty is darkened by her own excessive splendour.  Yet none of the marvellous peculiarities of her face could explain the devastating and eerie impression she imparted.’

Within Klíma’s (as he describes it) world-phantasm, women persist in being the downfall of young men.  This is not as negative as it initially seems; indeed, women are deified as “She” and “Her”, often depicted as strong and sensible, whilst men are indecisive and seethe with self-doubt.  Masochistic elements creep into Glorious Nemesis.  Though perhaps not to the extremes of Sacher-Masoch’s Severin, Sider spends the rest of his life pursuing the women.  Even after years pass, once he forgets, one lady returns to his thoughts as an obsessive compulsion, ‘no matter where he was, he saw only Her, Her, Her and her terrible mirrored glare, piercing his eyes and soul with a funeral chill’.  After a lifetime of returning and leaving Cortona, to both search for and flee his “ghastly love”, Sider soon begins to doubt his own existence.  Thereafter, using Sider’s ‘steadily growing insanity’, the novella becomes a philosophical treatise: a means to question whether there is a visible divide between dreams and reality.

Klíma’s dialectics are at the core of Glorious Nemesis.  Perhaps alienating to some readers, in being philosophically top-heavy, his thoughts are exquisitely balanced with black-humour and a punchy wit, often to the detriment of Sider’s mental wellbeing.  Though short, the novella manages to outline a steady argument for the rejection of spiritual possibilities.  Throughout Sider’s journey, the question of superstition vs. logical thought is vehemently argued.  For example, a doctor accosts Sider with his musings on the science of reality:  ‘“Do you know what science is?  Science is – science,” he roared like a bull, “and anyone who doesn’t believe in science hook, line, and sinker has me to answer to – you crackpot, you – superstitious ninny- ”’.  In trying to persuade his readers, Klíma ensures that Sider’s downfall is owed to his reluctance to fully embrace either side of the argument, ‘he naturally could not destroy his scepticism, though he did manage to narcotize it and subjugate it to his fate’.  Yet the most frustrating aspect of the book is the continuing deception of the reader – so much so, that Klíma can certainly be accused of sophistry.  Whether it is an anti-metaphysical view, rejecting the concept of God for materialism, Sider recoils against every point of view, to the extent that he rejects everything, concluding that the realisation of one’s own will is the primary achievement of existence:

‘Strictly speaking, everything, everything, even what happened…could always be explained in ‘a completely natural way,’ whether it’s supranational phenomena sanctioned by science, such as ‘suggestion’, ‘telepathy’, or hallucination,’ – and of course by timeless design, finality in All-Happening – which of course thus becomes God . . . Pah to all these imbecilic human concepts!  The concept of reality is nonsensical – it was only created by beggarly animalistic conceit – as was its complement: illusion! – no : fantastic Super-Splendour is All! : and therein lies the alpha and omega of wisdom!

Being an amalgamation of poetic prose, personal testimony and philosophical treatise, the story within Glorious Nemesis is easily lost behind the theory.  For those searching for an enjoyable story with a feisty narrative, uninterested in Klíma’s thought, there is an amusing little ghost story with an interesting twist, one that will horrify even the most hardened fans of traditional gothic-fare.  Equally, it would not be unfair to categorize the book as pure philosophy, behind which lies a serious monistic debate into the true nature of existence.  As such, the plot behind the novella occasionally suffers amidst this uneasy balance between prose and philosophy.  Yet at 123 pages, with beautiful illustrations from Pavel Růt, it is short.  Sider’s exploits – from his search for lost love, bounding through criminal activity, even committing murder, to the colourful often hilarious characters he meets on the way – are entertaining.  It is testament, therefore, to Klíma’s skill as a writer that even the most philosophy-wary will find something to enjoy.



image Richard Jackson is a PhD candidate and freelance writer from the UK.  He enjoys writing about Central and Eastern Europe and has submitted articles to journals such as Transitions Online and Literature Across Frontiers.  He manages and writes for the website ‘Lemberik’ – www.lemberik.org – which concerns contemporary Jewish life in Europe today.  For KGB, he is learning how to write in American English – an admission he is not proud of.