9 May, 2004
Le denier des heros romantiques
by Jean-Pierre Dennis, Le Devoir
Le Devoir (Montréal)
9 May 2004
The Last of the Romantic Heroes
by Jean-Pierre Denis
Stephen Vizinczey has only written two novels in his life, Éloge
des femmes mûres and Un millionnaire innocents, both of them
translated into some twenty languages. It's not much, but at the
same time it's a lot. Because Vizinczey is one of those rare writers
who can inspire enthusiasm and identification in the reader. Not
surprising! His masters are Balzac and Stendhal, and when he is
doubtful about a sentence or a paragraph, it is to them that he
turns for approval.
When the critics discovered Éloge des femmes mûres
they were dazzled by this roman d'apprentissage, talking about "a
bath of joy", "a graceful and evocative style which liberates
us from the anxiety that often accompanies love", and even
the "hormonal pleasure" that reading it procures. For
Un millionnaire innocent, they have insisted above all on the social
portrait of the powerful, portrayed by the author in a way that
a German critic said Vizinczey's New York attorneys made Balzac's
shyster lawyers look like little orphan boys. It is true that the
author is well acquainted with the legal world, having come up against
it several times, on one memorable occasion with his New York publisher
Ian Ballantine, against whom he waged a seven-year lawsuit to recover
his royalties. "Lawyers are wool merchants and their clients
are the sheep who are shorn."
It would be difficult not to see in this unhappy and very expensive
experience the germ of what he portrays in Un millionnaire innocent,
a novel which he spent ten years writing. The hero is not a writer
who is despoiled, but what is at stake amounts to the same thing.
Someone robs both the soul and the treasure of a young man who has
discovered by the sole force of his own work and his own tenacity
the wreck of the Flora, which sank with its precious cargo off the
coast of the Bahamas in 1820.
The treasure hunt
A treasure buried at the bottom of the sea, the solitary quest
of a young man who sets out to discover it on board a boat called
the Hermit, an impossible choice between the love of a woman and
the abandonment of his search in the very name of that love, confrontation
with the cruelty of the world which wants to take over his treasure
without regard to what might be called "intellectual property"
we are not far from the fate of the writer who is ready to
take on the whole world so as not to fail his truth and his intransigeance.
Which makes Vizincey's hero at the same time a romantic hero. His
heart is pure ("No man loves unless he becomes a child again"),
his passion limitless, his generosity as much as his poverty are
proverbial, his concern and love for others are noble
his faith is rudely tested, the obstacles are so many and seem insurmountable.
How, in fact, to defeat evil, which is everywhere? Maybe it would
have been better for our hero to take the advice of his friend Eshelby
who gave him paperback editions of Stendhal and Balzac and tried
to convince him that it was "crazy to search for treasure when
one could live a rich life for practically nothing,just by reading
on the human condition
A sort of social epic of modern times, Vizinczey's novel talks
about everything and above all, evil, whether it is the murders
of Martin Luther King, of John and Robert Kennedy, the election
of Richard Nixon, the toxic waste dumped into the seas by immoral
companies, the immoderate appetite for gain among the rich who are
ready for anything, even murder and above all, above all,
lawyers! There are innumerable chapters on this subject, at least
half the novel, and that is without repetition! Decidedly, this
author hates lawyers, above all those who frequent the higher echelons,
and the richer they are, the more fearsome and warped they are.
In the reading, this part is a bit tedious, although it is instructive
thanks to the details. The reader feels as overwhelmed as the hero,
Mark, and wonders whether he wouldn't be ready to kill to make all
that stop if he was in the same situation. It is not painful on
the fictional level (it is a bit, all the same), it is unbearable
on the human level. It makes us despair of the human condition and
makes it even more necessary for the hero to get over this ordeal
and get the better of his tormentors, even by suffering big losses.
So long as there is some justice at last! And since Vizinczey cannot
live without believing in love, let love triumph at last! To repeat
what he said about the Hungarian people in his Vérités
et mensonges en littérature, "the history of our defeats
and our survival is a sort of religion with us, as it is for the
Jews; our self-respect depends upon it, our heads are filled with
the calamities which failed to destroy us."
A moving novel which reads like an adventure novel and is also
a meditation on the human condition.