Virginia Barton

Prize-winning snail in an empty goldfish bowl


Catholic Herald, 3 March 1989


Review: The Story of My Wife by Milan Fust (Jonathan Cape, £11.95)


26d7810ae7a086ecac22d110_L__SY300_This author’s work was being considered for a Nobel Prize but Milan Fust died before the Swedish Academy made up its mind. Rave reviews from the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times Book Review are quoted on the jacket.

Not for the first time I find myself out of step with the literary pundits. Imagine a snail alone in an empty goldfish bowl, trying to get out. The bowl has a tightly fitting lid. The snail goes round and round, up and down, backwards and forwards at a snail’s pace. Eventually it dies through lack of nourishment and sheer boredom.

This novel resembles that image.

It is about obsessive jealousy. Only one’s own jealousy is interesting. Other peoples’ is not – at least not 336 pages of it. Sin is boring if it is totally isolated from virtue – think of the bald, unmitigated lust that constitutes that most boring of literatures, pornography.

The narrator of this book is an unlovely sea captain obsessed with the suspicion of his wife’s infidelity. Similarly unlovely, she flits, flaunts, flirts and keeps him on the perpetual hop. The uncertainty leads to high tension – but I didn’t really care.

I don’t read Hungarian but the translation (obviously for the American market) grated. Words like “Openers” and “beef-up” struck a false note in a pre-Second War narrative.

Milan Fust showed the door to the unwary visitor who mentioned Proust or Mann. But Proust wrote the great study of jealousy and Mann was a subtle depicter of infidelity. It’s the way you mix the ingredients that raises the subject to the heights.

The Story of My Wife, as far as I am concerned, never gets off the ground.




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