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Around the world with László Krasznahorkai

Around the world with László Krasznahorkai

The news that László Krasznahorkai has won the Man Booker International Prize 2015 seems to have gone down well, and not just in Krasznahorkai's native Hungary. From the Guardian and the Telegraph to CBC and Newsweek, from the LA Times and the Bangalore Mirror to The Hindu and Chandigarth Tribune, the world's press has been fascinated by this absurdist writer and his long, looping sentences. Marina Warner, chair of the judges, clearly feels that bringing Krasznahorkai to a wider audience (his translators George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet have, who shared the £15,000 translators' prize, have also been widely praised for their work) is an important moment: "a trick that the best writers pull off; they give you the thrill of the strange... then after a while they imaginatively retune you. So now we say, ‘It’s just like being in a Kafka story’; I believe that soon we will say it’s like being in a Krasznahorkai story." Dame Marina will be interviewing Krasznahorkai at the Hay Festival on Sunday 24th May.


Prior to his victory there was already a small link between Krasznahorkai and the Man Booker. One of his novels, Seiobo There Below (2008), is published by Tuskar Rock, an imprint set up by the MB double-shortlisted novelist Colm Tóibín (with the agent Peter Straus). Tóibín was so frustrated no one else was publishing the book here he decided to do it himself. 


Krasznahorkai most celebrated novel, Satantango, was filmed by the director Béla Tarr. Shot in black and white, it runs to a daunting seven hours with many individual takes lasting a full 10 minutes. In 2012 it made the British Film Institute's critics' list of the top 50 films. The book runs to 288 pages so time-pressed cinema goers might fear that the recently announced filming of Hilary Mantel's 872-page A Place of Greater Safety could come in at around 21 hours. The 1992 novel describes the machinations of Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins during the French Revolution. The BBC adaptation, written by Richard Warlow (Ripper Street) is still in its early stages. It is no plot spoiler to point out that all three of the revolutionaries had a final date with “Madame Guillotine” – a fate the film team should perhaps remember if they start heading towards Satantango lengths.


If the award to Krasznahorkai means that many people will start reading his books now, no such luck for fans of the 2000 Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood. Her latest book has been commissioned as part of the Future Library project, organised by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson, in which, every year for the next 100, a writer creates a literary work that won’t be seen until the 22nd century. The books will be kept in the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo, Norway when it opens in 2018. Atwood's is the first and should finally be seen in 2114. As the author herself puts it: 

    "There’s a secret book that no one will read for 100 years.

    It is a book from the future, so it hasn’t been published yet.

    It is kept in a locked room, in a Norwegian library.

    There is a sacred grove that will provide the paper for its pages. 

    And there are 100 authors who will write its secret stories. 

    100 years. 100 stories. 100 different writers."