Skylark

Dezso Kosztolanyi

translated from the Hungarian by Richard Aczel
Central European University Press 1996 [1924]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004 http://dannyreviews.com/
Skylark is the ugly spinster daughter of a retired middle class couple in a provincial Hungarian town. Their lives revolve around her, but when she goes to stay with relatives in the country for a week they quickly adjust. They learn to appreciate restaurant food and go to the theatre — and Ákos meets up with the members of his old club, the Panthers, who have kept up their weekly carousing and card playing despite their age. The night before Skylark is due to return, ideas are voiced which have never been thinkable before.

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.

July 2004

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Related reviews:
- books about Eastern Europe + Eastern European history
- more Hungarian literature
%T Skylark
%A Kosztolanyi, Dezso
%M Hungarian
%F Aczel, Richard
%I Central European University Press
%D 1996 [1924]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1858660599
%P 224pp