So if Peter Owen were kind enough to send me some books the least I could do was read them.
I have to own up to a bit of a backlog of reading "books sent".I am always very grateful and I get there eventually, when the right mood strikes, but they aren't all by Joseph Roth and I was in complete mittel-European mood last weekend so I just opened one and that was me done for.
Flight Without End first published in 1927 and things are ambiguous from the off.
Is it, as Joseph Roth would have us believe,
"the story of my friend, comrade and spiritual associate, Franz Tunda...in part his notes in part his narrative.I have invented nothing, made up nothing.The question of 'poetic invention' is no longer relevant.Observed fact is all that counts"
or is it a novel masquerading as fact?
Part way through we learn that there could be some element of invention and elaboration to Tunda's notes so there lies the confusion, who's actually writing what?
Perhaps this is Joseph Roth's method of writing one step removed from real events and now I'm confusing myself. All cleverly ambiguous, full marks to Joseph.
The book follows the journey of Franz Tunda a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army returning to his old life in Europe after captivity in Siberia following the 1914-18 war.En route he gets caught up in a bit of revolution in Russia but eventually, making it back to his old haunts, he finds a life, the people and place unrecognizable.Much as he may have been dissatisfied with the old order it had its attractions but nothing about the new order impresses him at all.
Every time I read a book by Joseph Roth I have this image in mind of a stocky little man, balding,specs on his nose, a gifted writer so despairing of what he is seeing happen in Europe that he feels compelled to record his disillusion with a drink or three to hand that will speed him into an early grave and each book seems to reflect some little aspect of this.
The turmoil is all so quietly understated, almost matter-of-fact.
I never sense any anger seeping out of a Joseph Roth book either, he's too clever for that, more an all-pervading sense of helpless disempowerment;a writer who has gently surrendered to the might of his pen and this makes it even more impressive.In the same way that Penelope Fitzgerald wrote about life's unfortunates, Joseph Roth does likewise.
Yes indeed,melancholy aplenty.
I turn the pages completely immersed in a world I couldn't possibly know but actually, thanks to Joseph Roth, I'm starting to know very well indeed.
I still have two more lovely Peter Owen Joseph's to read (solid binding, nice cover, good paper, book printed in Cornwall, oggy oggy oggy) and whole lot more besides.
Is there a good biography in English? That's where I need to go next.