True to form, Krasznahorkai’s latest collection of fiction is intentionally difficult, if less bleak than some of his vaguely apocalyptic novels. Laced with the dark, existential humor familiar to readers of Kafka and Samuel Beckett ... Make no mistake: Krasznahorkai is an avant-garde stylist with little interest in the traditional short stories we’re all familiar with from literary magazines. The stories in The World Goes On are the reading equivalent of climbing a volcano instead of sitting by the beach on your honeymoon. But the rewards — the sudden, knife-like insights so cerebral they seem the work of an alien intelligence — are worth the effort.
This new collection of stories, like all of Krasznahorkai’s work, consists mostly of the searching, capacious sentences for which he has become known, each additional clause circling the unutterable … With impressive subtlety, the translations recreate the playful irony that undercuts the incessant anguish in each story, an anguish that can become predictable and therefore tiresome ... Krasznahorkai’s stories refuse to submit to the expectation that fiction provide any kind of reassurance or intimation of redemption. What the stories offer instead is a singular kind of immersive intensity in scenes flooded with such despair that reading them feels at times like drowning in the spiritual questions of our era.
Krasznahorkai’s sentences are rooted in his conviction that prose should model itself more on how the mind actually works—that is, as an ongoing flow that restates, returns, repeats, jumps from memory to memory, and from present to past to future and back again. Of course, Marcel Proust also comes to mind. The Hungarian writer clearly shares his tendency to move between events and memories, past and present, in long, looping sentences. But Proust never denies his readers a stable fictional world to retreat to in case they lose the thread of the writing and need to regroup. Krasznahorkai’s epic sentences, by contrast, often pointedly shake, if never entirely destroy, this stable fictional foundation. And they offer few places where a reader can pause to digest what they have read. This is literature as endurance trial ... It’s a high-culture gauntlet thrown down in the face of the creeping notion—and anxiety—that literature should model itself on information. Krasznahorkai’s vast sentences resist summation. Their obtuse materiality makes it impossible to treat them as indifferent carriers of a message. Carefully hewn, they blur the line between poetry and prose, infusing the latter with the intensity and aesthetic power of the former. This certainly tests one’s patience—not to mention our social media-truncated attention spans. But the combination of their technical brilliance and ironic intelligence is disarming. Our overly market-driven literary scene often flatters its audiences rather than asking them to think. Krasznahorkai makes a compelling case for literature that demands effort. Prose needn’t always go down like water. Sometimes, a good stiff drink is in order.