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Notes in the Margin

A blog about books
C. J. Schuler is a freelance writer and journalist specialising in literature, travel and the arts. He has written regularly for The Independent, and has contributed to numerous other publications including the Financial Times, The Tablet and the New Statesman. He is currently Chairman of the Authors’ Club.

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A rediscovered classic

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Monday, 30 November 2009 at 03:00 pm
It is my good fortune to go to many enjoyable literary events, but few have been as memorable as the launch of a new translation of The Queen’s Necklace by Antal Szerb, in the magical setting of Keats House in Hampstead last week.

Organised by the publisher Pushkin Press, in conjunction with Daunt Books, it featured the book’s translator Len Rix in conversation with the novelist Paul Bailey, before an audience of writers and readers, including a smattering of Hungarian émigrés.

Szerb’s work has only recently been rediscovered in the UK thanks to the efforts of the translator and publisher. As anyone who has read any of the Hungarian writer’s mesmeric, hallucinatory novels will attest, his is a unique and powerful voice; indeed, Bailey has described him as one of “the master novelists of the 20th century".

The Queen’s Necklace is a slyly witty, determinedly unconventional history of a scandal that rocked the court of Marie Antoinette in the years before the French Revolution. Szerb wrote it in 1942, in the darkest of circumstances. It was immediately banned, and the author was brutally murdered in a labour camp in 1945 shortly before the end of the war.

Why Keats House? The recently restored venue was, in fact, highly appropriate, for Szerb, an Anglophile who spent several years in this country, loved Keats’s work, and set a scene in his 1937 novel Journey by Moonlight beside the poet’s grave in Rome. As Rix remarked, he would have been thrilled to know that his work was being discussed here.

Comments

Queen's Necklace
(Anonymous) wrote:
Monday, 30 November 2009 at 03:14 pm (UTC)
I agree – I also had the privilege to be there, and it was magic. Great talk, great atmosphere, great book. Well done Pushkin Press!

Alex
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