I’m not going to make a list over the 50 best contemporary novelists, I’m only going to write about one, a man I believe, after only reading one of his books, to be a literary genius. (I must haste to add that genius is not really a concept of mine – but …)
I am talking about the Hungarian author Péter Nádas (b. 1942 – still writing), and the first book of his trilogy Parallel Stories, an extraordinary writer and a fantastic story. Since I’ve only read 1/3 of the story (= volume one), this will not be a review. Only a few lines on what impresses me most in this book.
Nádas is painting a large screen when writing, and his text is incredibly visual and sensual. He is very good at giving nature anthropomorphic qualities, and he is using architectural descriptions to make rooms for his characters. Colours, especially yellow, are used in a symbolic way throughout the novel. While all these things surrounding people are very important to the story, it’s no doubt that the idea of identity and self is what really is at stake.
Who am I? Why am I who I am? Who am I for myself, and who am I for other people – etc. These are central questions for all of the characters in the novel; many of them try to find answers through erotic relations, passion, desire, and transgressing sexuality.
But then – sex and lust doesn’t make a good story; language does. To me Nádas seems to be “the still to be fully explored” link between Thomas Mann and Virginia Woolf. His broad canvas, dealing with big historic events in an intellectual way, reminds me of Mann, his use of stream-of-consciousness is like Woolf’s. His interest in sexuality might well be a Freudian heritage.
So if I, today, were to choose the best contemporary novelist, my choice would definitively fall on Péter Nádas.