Blesok no. 74, September-October, 2010
Seeing People Off
(Jana Beňová: Plán odprevádzania (Café Hyena). Bratislava: Koloman Kertész Bagala, 2008. Ilustrácie Jana Némethová.
It is plain that Jana Beňová would like to write a novel. It is also plain that a novel about prefabricated Petržalka (a district of Bratislava) cannot be written. It is not that fictional things don’t happen in Petržalka but that Petržalka abounds in things which have nothing to do with a novel: anonymity, anti-historism, dangerous liaisons, the solitude of a man seeking identity. Jana Beňová may not be aware of all that, but the inspired intuition she demonstrated in three books of poetry and two books of prose is clearly heading towards it. Her (novel-like) vision of Petržalka may be the first prose about this trans-Danubean and transurban continent of concrete, which has its colour, atmosphere and its subjective nature even despite the fact that this is exactly what Petržalka lacks. If the author herself is loath to call her Petržalka creation a novel, it may be due to the fact that in her Petržalka stuff she has mixed some completely new ingredients which nobody, herself included, is accustomed to. The dynamism of “seeing-off” rites is provided by an incredibly abundant narrative separated into fifteen segments. It is a first-person narrative dealing in particular with the cohabitation of the most prominent characters – Elza and Ian, but also with numerous others – real and fictitious, or even dream-like ones. The object of the narrative is feelings, senses, allusions, dreams, language, lyricism with the flavour of evil, in-depth psychology, real deeds of characters as well as banal thoughts, foreign names, foreign words, words used for a calculated effect, and effective malapropisms and shocking vulgarities. What really matters is that the narrative never loses its wholeness and every line strikes you with its originality. Intellectuals and boys from the street see off their kind and in their own manner, the seeing-off is done by digression, hastily, with unadulterated warmness as well as angry decisiveness – in the same manner as in the final lines dealing with Ian’s dying mother – for good and in full awareness of the contradiction of life’s courses. Beňová’s texts are fraught with irony and self-irony, but also with tenderness and a desire for togetherness. They are texts bound by deep layers of feeling and perception, as well as politics and the estranged practices of modern societies. Precise cuts allow the intellectually well-prepared author to respond to everything, although it is quite clear that, in the rich texts, much will remain unread, the accent from some things will be transferred to others and many things will take on new dimensions. But this is always the case for quality literature: time works in its favour. Beňová’s Seeing People Off is a good and full book. In an era of increasingly banal feminine literature, it is a miracle of authenticity indeed.
Translated by Pavol Lukáč