Tuskar Rock, £12.99

Satantango, By László Krasznahorkai, trans. George Szirtes

Hungarian oddballs and obsessives do battle against time in this novel by a European master.

EM Cioran, the brilliantly tenebrous Romanian thinker, wrote that melancholy is "that same fall into a languid mud, that same circling of the damned without a hell''. Replace that "circling of the damned" with a Hungarian csárdás, danced out in a rain-soaked village on the edge of extinction, then you will have the setting for Satantango, the first novel (1985) by one of the living greats of European literature, László Krasznahorkai.

In Satantango, "the mill's death-sentence had brought the whole estate to a condition of near collapse". Krasznahorkai is a poet of dilapidation, of everything that exists on the point of not-existence. He draws a community of oddballs and obsessives trying desperately to combat the passage of time as everything around them sinks into the mud of an endless rain.

Some choose vigilance to counteract the threat of vanishing: the local doctor, the author's surrogate, records everything he sees. Does surveillance mean survival? Others drink, dance, lust after the buxom Mrs Schmidt. Meanwhile, village-idiot Little Esti lives by "a terrifying network of shapes, colours, lines", until she is humiliated beyond redemption and, in one of the most powerful scenes, seeks revenge by torturing the family cat.

Each character has their own errant or absurd cosmology, which they repeat. And here another Romanian thinker springs to mind, Mircea Eliade, with his Myth of the Eternal Return. It's as if these acts repeated can somehow resist linear time and replace it with a cyclical, more magical, and ultimately more resistant mode of living.

Enter Irimias and his side-kick, Petrina. Like the fisher-king arriving to replenish the barren lands, Irimias, according to Petrina, is "an angel of hope to hopeless people". Is Irimias the saviour of the community or a gift-of-the-gab conman, robbing people of their hopes as well as their cash?

George Szirtes's fine translation finds a telling balance between Krasznahorkai's biblical luminosity and his satanic intensity. His inexhaustible yet claustrophobic prose, with its long, tight, weaving sentences, each like a tantalising tightrope between banality and apocalypse, places the author in a European tradition of Beckett, Bernhard, and Kafka.

Satantango is not just a dance, but a battle; a battle between constant vigilance – keeping an eye on each other, human kinness – and the urge to vice, to be stricken in time, to allow oneself to be ruled badly (see the contemporary situation in Hungary), to vanish. We relish a gleeful pessimism – just like Cioran's – that can be so uplifting that it's surely no longer pessimism, but the magic of a melancholy resistance, and mercifully without all that mud.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific