Art is a difficult subject, particularly the debate about what constitutes good art, and so it is a challenged theme running through this book by Croatian author Miroslav Krelza. There are several things going on here in a confined area with a small collection of characters. If you stripped out the debates about art, the thoughts Philip has about painting and his own origins and just ran the final few chapters it has such a limited cast it comes into short story territory. But the larger themes make it more than just the tale of an individual.
Philip Lationowicz has returned home after an absence of eleven years and arrives at a station in a town where his mother and himself used to live but she is clearly no longer there and you half wonder if she is dead. But he then travels to a town where the bishop lives and his mother is there and he moves into an attic room in her house. Philip is a painter but has lost the creativity urge and inspiration and hopes to rediscover it, as well as solving his history discovering the real identity of his father. The first comes and goes and the second is finally revealed but you have to wait until near the end. On top of those twin tracks there is also a relationship with a cashier in a café who attracts Philip and in the end dies as a result of the jealousy he partly inflames in her long time lover. The conclusion of the book provides Philip with plenty of material for artistic ideas and leaves him with no excuses to stay with his mother and his past any longer.
Is it well written?
It’s an odd book in that it is a slow burner starting with a idyllic return to a childhood village and ending up with a gruesome murder. The action builds like a pressure cooker as Philip starts to fall out with his mother, becomes obsessed with Bobocka the cashier in the café and because of his weak nature allows his entire view of the world to come under attack by a Greek philosopher. Where it is well written is providing an insight into the mind of the artist in torment. Where it is easy to find fault is around the relationship between mother and son, which is sketched out when it could be described more fully.
Should it be read?
As part of an education into writers from other countries then Krelza deserves to be read. But I am not sure that had this book not been £1 in a second hand book store then I would have brought it. It doesn’t really say anything about Croatia and it is slightly depressing to find Philip reading the Daily Mail while he smokes a cigarette and sips his coffee. But as a tale of tightening tension and the price people will pay to avoid loneliness then it is well worth reading.
An artist looking for his muse discovers one in his childhood village but she is destroyed by her jealous lover in an evening that reveals more than Philip ever expected about the truth of his family
Version read – Quartet Encounters paperback