It does not happen too often that leading publishing houses compete for the first novel of a Hungarian author and that the most prestigious literary magazines publish chapters of it. It is doubly unlikely that such a promising beginner is in his sixties. And what is even more unusual is that the author returns to his mother tongue after being away from it for a quarter of a century.
Not only the circumstances of this debut were unique, but also the book itself. The story takes place in Budapest in 1984. The main character is a loafing and flighty intellectual, planning to emigrate. The book recounts his love, intellectual, family, social and societal affairs, but its complex and eventful plot offers such a great variety of readings that one interprets it as a Don Juan parody; another as a tableau of an intellectual subculture – a lá Kerouac’s On the Road. There are some who see a post-modern historical novel in it; others a grotesque Bildungsroman, or even a metaphor of failure or a pseudo roman á clef.
Each chapter is written in a different genre or from a different angle. One may encounter a micro-realistic love scene, gallant episodes following the traditions of oriental tales, a family novel extract, a traditional short story, a joke anthology, psychoanalytic confession, reports (informer, editorial, business…), a theatrical comedy scene in a cemetery, sexual, family and public crime stories, a movie script, essay, diary, epistolary novel, apocalyptic vision…
The baroque counterpoints of complementary and refuting elements evoke an ambitious meta-literary exercise in style, but that is rather a hidden dimension of the novel. What the reader actually gets is a hilarious, overwhelming and touching book, in which the stylistic variation of each chapter mingles with unexpected turns of the screw.
Dés’ book has nothing to do with magical realism, yet it still recalls One Hundred Years of Solitude in a sense that a sophisticated narrative machine can also become a popular novel. The most attractive virtue of Budapest Baroque is that it can be simultaneously comic and dead serious, moving and cynical, obscene and poetic, manifestly sensual and ironically intellectual…
The humour of the book – based on the main character’s voice – is reminiscent of the neurotic humour of Woody Allen, Philip Roth and Italo Svevo, only combined with Rabelaisian hedonism and vitality.
“Never has any generation on Earth had such a good time feeling bad as we did”, says one of the characters in Budapest Baroque, and undoubtedly the bizarre duality of anguish and joy of life is what best characterizes this remarkable book.
In three months Budapest Baroque became a cult novel cheered by the critics and endorsed by a great success. On the first week of the publication, Dés’ book was on all best sellers lists. On the second, a famous Hungarian actor asked the author to write a play based on his novel and on the third week, an agency dedicated to organize cultural walking tours in Budapest, announced a touristic program based on the scenarios of the book.
In the meantime, Dés has prepared the theatrical version of his novel (the premier will be in the 2015/16 season), and he received a proposal by National Radio to write a 10-episode audio soap opera from it.
In March 2014, precisely one year after the publication of Budapest Baroque, Dés came out with a new novel, Gastro guide to my mother, followed by other books and theatrical plays.