The good news is that a substantial body of work from Mr. Sandor Marai of Hungary has been found once again, in a manner of speaking, and for those who love brilliant writing, the Publisher Knoph is translating his work into English. His novel, "Embers" is one of the better books I have read this year.
An old castle in The Carpathian Mountains is the setting for what approaches a monologue. The mood of the book is consistent with another who hailed from these mountains as Vlad The Impaler. The book is not a horror novel, rather a disturbing psychological thriller that explores what is truly at the heart of an issue after it has been examined for over 4 decades. Coincidentally the age of the author when he wrote the work, and the time that expires between one dinner between the closest of friends and its sequel, are both 42 years. The book is remarkable as he writes of the view of life from the perspective of people in their 8th and 10th decades of life, and the prose reads as authoritative and appropriate. It reads like a man who has lived twice as long as the author had lived when he penned this work. The writing is wise.
Mr. Marai takes a familiar theme that would normally result in rapid responses from those involved, and instead suspends any conclusion for over 4 decades. He presents two boys that grow up together and form bonds that are so absolute, there is nowhere for their friendship to improve. Their bond is complete; their backgrounds are polar opposites, which may give rise to the fall. There is an intentional breach, and then there is an event that never gets beyond the "almost" stage. Had it occurred it would have been the greatest of tragedies.
The injured party, whether through right or the power of family and position, could have done anything he chose to his friend and betrayer. For over 40 years he could have easily sought him out, but yet he never did, he never even contemplated seeking a traditional revenge. When the faithless friend comes to visit, dinner is served with a meticulous eye for the reproduction of every detail of the dinner 42 years before. There are only two at the table as opposed to three, and yet the missing third is a tangential issue, important but not the focus. The host queries his guest about events of which he knows all the details save for one. He already knows what happened, and is comfortable as to motive. The author builds such expectations in the reader that you will wonder if the final act can possibly match the first.
There is only one question, however there are two sources for the truth. The host for most of his life has held one and he has never violated the seal, his friend alone can provide the answer if the book remains closed. The resolution of the tale is brilliant. It is complex, and also beautifully logical when expressed as this one character of fiction has decanted it for most of his life. There is no written slight of hand. This is a completely new approach, a unique response to what should seem cliché. Absolutely great reading.