Journey by Moonlight

Antal Szerb

translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix
Pushkin Press 2001 [1937]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010 http://dannyreviews.com/
Mihaly and his wife Erszi are on a honeymoon in Venice when alarming parts of Mihaly's past start surfacing. He tells Erszi the story of his childhood and youth, of the involuted circle of friends he was part of, obsessed with drama and death — Tamas and his sister Eva, Ervin, and Janos — and of Tamas' suicide and their scattering.

When an "accident" with trains then separates them, a marriage designed to set the seal on Mihaly's bourgeois settlement comes apart. He ends up in a small town in the mountains and then in Rome, meeting the key figures of his youth again. Erszi ends up in Paris, where she struggles to find her own feet in the face of temptation by her former husband and other suitors. Their lives move almost in parallel as they face unsettling revelations and encounters, spending dark, almost Gothic nights in strange places; each of them has to make a decision about their future.

Published as Utas és Holdvilág in 1937, Journey by Moonlight is, superficially, yet another Central European interwar novel about obsessed youth, middle age crises, and the temptations of suicide, but it offers a unique twist on that. It is sombre in tone and maintains an atmosphere of surreality, but is also playful and ironic. The plot does depend on rather too many coincidences, but the narrative once under way is compelling and the characters retain our sympathy and interest. All of this is set against a background of fascist Italy and fashionable Paris, with a seasoning of religious history.

I will be keeping an eye out for Antal Szerb's other novels.

November 2010

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- buy from Wordery
- review and links at the Complete Review
Related reviews:
- Antal Szerb - Oliver VII
- Antal Szerb - The Pendragon Legend
- more Hungarian literature
- books published by Pushkin Press
%T Journey by Moonlight
%A Szerb, Antal
%M Hungarian
%F Rix, Len
%I Pushkin Press
%D 2001 [1937]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781901285505
%P 234pp