Hosted by two of my favourite book bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles, and with the participation of so many other readers whom I love ‘chatting to’ online, how could I not take part in this week of celebration of literature published in 1965!
But I have to admit that I haven’t made it easy for myself. In the Wikipedia list of books pubished in 1965 I came across a Romanian one that I’d never heard of: Ion Vinea’s Lunatecii (The Lunatics). I was unable to find a copy of it in time, but I discovered that there was a radio play adaptation of it dating from 1991, so I listened to as many of the episodes as I could find… in a way, this is my first audiobook!
I mainly knew of Ion Vinea as a poet and translator (of Shakespeare, for example) and it turns out that this is how the Communist censorship wanted him to be remembered. He had been a very active and well-respected figure of the interwar literary scene in Romania, a modernist poet and friend of Tristan Tzara’s, worked on the same paper as Mihail Sebastian, met F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris, and had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Nazis during the Second World War (disenchanted with both the right-wing and left-wing parties at the time). After the war, however, he was suspected of being a British spy, had to go underground for a while and worked as a plasterer and porter. When one of his close friends fled the country, he and his (ex-)wife Henriette Yvonne Stahl were repeatedly questioned and tortured by the secret police. So the novel was only published after his death, in 1965, when there was a relaxation of censorship, from materials gathered together carefully by Stahl out of the hundreds of pages that he had produced over the 30+ years that he had been working on the novel.
The novel is firmly set in the late 1920s and was apparently inspired by Tender Is the Night. In many ways, it is the swansong of a lost generation and shows aristocracy and intelligentsia in decline, without them even realising it. But it is also a psychological novel, the story of a disappointed and failing man.
This failure of a man is Lucu Silion who, when the novel opens, is an elegant, successful man in his early 30s, who enjoyed an early success after publishing his first (history) book and was considered a heavy-hitting intellectual. However, he is starting to slip a little: unable to repeat his early success, working in a dead-end administrative job, not sure what he wants to do next professionally (his mother suggests the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he nips that in the bud with a passionate discourse about hypocrisy and corruption in the civil service). His mother is domineering but cold and admits that she never wanted to have him, yet he still trusts her enough to admit to her that he feels haunted by his own interal demons.
Sure enough, those demons show up. He is at first merely pleasantly successful with the ladies (Vinea himself was a notorious womaniser), but then finds himself torn between mysterious Laura, who seems to be suffering from an incurable disease, and demanding Ana, obsessed by marriage, whom he can’t quite let go. As you might expect, all this shilly-shallying between the two women does not end well, and he treats both of them rather badly. He does get his come-uppance, however, and in the final scene, we find him lonely and neglected, washed-out and abandoned by society and his friends, following a rapid descent into poverty, alcoholism, and vagrancy.
It’s hard to judge the quality of the writing from a radio play version, but the plot, such as it is, seems to be fairly simplistic. The inner turmoil seems to be the driving factor here, and it all feels a little Richard Yates to me. Although the bulk of Vinea’s novel had been written by the time Yates’ Revolutionary Road appeared, I wonder if he was familiar with it at all and perhaps slightly influenced by it?
So a bit of an obscure and unusual one for my first 1965 read. The next one, by way of contrast, is relatively easy to find and very much a product of the 1960s.