Skylark (Pacsirta, 1924) is no thriller, with most of it describing ordinary household and social activities — waiting for a train, walking to the station, going out to dinner, and so forth. It moves along easily, however, with distinct episodes and character sketches following one another in quick succession and with a balance between sparse narrative and "close up" description of details. Ákos Vajkay is the only sustained study, but many others are brought to life, sometimes in just a few paragraphs: a railway employee who had once walked with Skylark, various Panthers, the editor of the local paper, dreaming of Budapest and a broader world, and of course Skylark herself and Mrs Vajkay. Some characters almost beg for caricature or a comic treatment, but Skylark never drops into comedy — nor, though it continually verges on the tragic, does it become a tragedy. Eschewing melodrama, Kosztolányi's is a subtler range.
A portrait of Austro-Hungarian provincial society in 1899, a collection of fine character sketches, and a balanced and pleasing story, Skylark is a superbly executed short novel. This edition also includes a useful introduction by Péter Esterházy, describing Kosztolányi's life and literary background.
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