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Journey by Moonlight
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Group Reads Archive > July 2016 Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Welcome to July's fiction group read of Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb. Please join us in discussing this book by posting some thoughts on it. What do you think of the characters? The writing? What did you expect going in? Would you recommend this book to others? Etc.

Enjoy!


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I'm halfway through this and really liking it - quite a weird story which at times seems like a dream. But it's simply and directly written, in the Len Rix translation anyway, so that I always want to read another page before putting it down.

The way the central character, Mihály, is haunted by his past and the tormented/glamorous characters he once knew has a strong emotional pull. I'm reminded in a way of Brideshead Revisited, even though the story is very different.


Nigeyb Couldn't agree more Judy.


Curiously at the time of writing, the most liked review of Journey by Moonlight on GoodReads, and the third most liked review, were from readers who were unable to finish this book. That concerned me before I read it. I do not have much patience with "difficult" books. I adore beautiful, atmospheric writing but not at the expense of clarity. When I noticed the phrase 'modernist masterpiece' in amongst some praise for the book, I was even more apprehensive. So, I am pleased and relieved to report that Journey by Moonlight is both easy to read and enjoyable, and as you say this English translation by Len Rix, from the original Hungarian, is beautiful.


Nigeyb Journey by Moonlight is concerned with that hoary old chestnut, life, what’s it all about? The question is explored through the central character, Mihály, a dreamy, distracted person who has drifted into the family business and a life of compromised bourgeois tedium and respectability, and which is at odds with his bohemian past. Whilst on his honeymoon, Mihály has a crisis which sees him looking back on his past and considering the best way to live his life.

Journey by Moonlight is a wonderfully subtle, surprising and original book. Whilst I have some sympathy with those readers who might have got exasperated with it, I can assure you that perseverance pays rich dividends. Beautifully written, unpredictable, playful, intelligent and quietly profound, and it got progressively more interesting and beguiling. By around the halfway point I was captivated, and each time I put it down I couldn't wait to pick it back up again.

I loved it and I'm looking forward to learning what the rest of you wonderful BYTers make of it.


message 5: by Connie (last edited Jul 02, 2016 04:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Connie G (connie_g) | 162 comments I'm only on the third chapter of the book, and I was intrigued by Mihaly visiting the mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna. I'm not far enough along to know why they are important to him, other than a childhood memory, but wanted to share the links.

The mosaic of Emperor Justinian:
https://www.khanacademy.org/humanitie...

Basilica of San Vitale:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilic...


Nigeyb Jennifer W wrote: "What did you expect going in to Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb?"

Over the last few years I’ve had a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from books set in and around Eastern Europe (for example, Seven Terrors by Selvedin Avdić, The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher, Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Between the Woods and the Water + A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor).

These positive experiences inspired me to seek more interesting Eastern European books, and so it was that I came across Journey by Moonlight. My expectations were high even thought I didn't really know what was in store.

Jennifer W wrote: "Would you recommend Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb to others?"

Yes I would. Emphatically so. Beautifully written, unpredictable, playful, intelligent and quietly profound, and it got progressively more interesting and beguiling. By around the halfway point I was captivated, and each time I put it down I couldn't wait to pick it back up again.

At the end of the Pushkin Press edition, in Len Rix’s translator’s note, he mentions that this is the book that all Hungarians read as students, which reinforces one of my burgeoning beliefs, Hungarians have got great taste.


Nigeyb Connie wrote: "I'm only on the third chapter of the book, and I was intrigued by Mihaly visiting the mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna. I'm not far enough along to know why they are important to him, other than a childhood memory, but wanted to share the links."

Thanks Connie. For some reason it rarely occurs to me to go and look up places that people visit in books but I really should as it helps to bring the reading experience even more alive.


message 8: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val While Mihaly is off dreamily trying to capture his lost youth, it turns out that 'conventional' Erzsi had more practical and more unconventional ambitions of her own and is getting on with living them. I found that amusing and quite feminist for the time, although I would have liked to have more about Erzsi's story.
I'm not sure whether it is intended as a metaphor for Austria-Hungary after the First World War, with Mihaly looking back with nostalgia for a false golden age and Erzsi getting on with life as it is, but it works as one.

I think it is a modernist novel, in that it is more about what Mihaly is thinking than what he does. They don't have to be 'difficult' or 'challenging' in style.


Nigeyb Val wrote: I think it is a modernist novel, in that it is more about what Mihaly is thinking than what he does. They don't have to be 'difficult' or 'challenging' in style."

Thanks Val. I need to get a good definition of modernist writing clear in my mind. In my rather simplistic world I just associate it with writing that I've found hard work (e.g James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen).

Our man doesn't make this list of Modernist Writers but it's probably not meant to be exhaustive...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...

I've said this a few times but I prize accessibility in writing (not necessarily in other art forms though) and get impatient with books where the meaning is not clear to me. Journey by Moonlight felt very accessible and easy to comprehend. But, as I mention above, the most liked review of Journey by Moonlight on GoodReads, and the third most liked review, were from readers who were unable to finish this book. Which seems odd to me but there we are. I am interested to see what the rest of you make of its readability.


Barbara So far, I am loving this book. It seems very readable. I'm reading the translation by Peter Hargitai, so it may be more or less readable than the Len Rix version.

While reading last night, it suddenly reminded me of Le Grand Meaulnes that some of us read a while back. In both, the main character tried to recapture a past golden time and couldn't live in the here and now. Did anyone else make that connection?


message 11: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 05, 2016 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb Barbara wrote: "While reading last night, it suddenly reminded me of Le Grand Meaulnes that some of us read a while back. In both, the main character tried to recapture a past golden time and couldn't live in the here and now. Did anyone else make that connection?"

Not until you mentioned it Barbara. Now though, I agree, and a very similar vibe too.


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I hadn't thought of this either, but agree too.


message 13: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 09, 2016 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb I heartily recommend Susan's review of The Third Tower: Journeys in Italy by Antal Szerb which informed Journey by Moonlight...


www.goodreads.com/review/show/1022544089

Antal Szerb was thirty five at the time he wrote this book; a gentle and kindly Hungarian of Jewish descent. Indeed, this book made what is generally regarded as his masterpiece, “Journey by Moonlight,” possible. Like the hero of that novel, Szerb arrived in Venice, and began writing it shortly after his return.


Barbara Thanks, Nigeyb, for mentioning Susan's review, and thanks, Susan, for the great review itself. Once again one book leads to another! Until recently, I'd never heard of Antal Szerb, and now I'm eager to read more. Hurrah for BYT!!!


Connie G (connie_g) | 162 comments I've read about 1/3 of the book, and it seems that Mihaly is on a journey of self-discovery. In his youth he had a place where he felt like he belonged, but he was always the victim. In Italy, away from his conventional life, he has a chance to think about what he wants. He looks back at his life on page 89:

"For indeed, what had been his life during the past fifteen years? At home and abroad he had been schooled in mastery. Not self-mastery, but the mastery of his family, his father, the profession which did not interest him....."


Nigeyb Connie wrote: "I've read about 1/3 of the book, and it seems that Mihály is on a journey of self-discovery."


I agree. Mihály has drifted into the family business and his life of compromised bourgeois tedium and respectability, and which is at odds with his bohemian past.


message 17: by Connie (last edited Jul 12, 2016 10:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Connie G (connie_g) | 162 comments I enjoyed the dark humor, the eccentric cast of characters, and the dreamy Gothic atmosphere. It's an unusual and entertaining book where the reader should just go with the flow, and see where Antal Szerb takes you.

My review:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Nigeyb Great review. Thanks.


Nigeyb Anyone else planning on reading this?


Barbara I read it and really liked it but never got around to writing up my thoughts. Had some cardiac issues that landed me in the hospital and writing book reviews/discussion comments has been the last thing on my mind. I'm ok now but might not be very present here for a bit.


Connie G (connie_g) | 162 comments Barbara wrote: "I read it and really liked it but never got around to writing up my thoughts. Had some cardiac issues that landed me in the hospital and writing book reviews/discussion comments has been the last t..."

I hope you have a quick recovery, Barbara. There will be plenty of time later to discuss books when you're feeling better.


Barbara Thanks, Connie. Yes, things are going well for me at the moment--thank goodness!!


Nigeyb Get well soon Barbara


Barbara Nigeyb wrote: "Get well soon Barbara"

Thanks, Nigey!


message 25: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Get well wishes from me too, Barbara.


Barbara Judy wrote: "Get well wishes from me too, Barbara." Thanks, Judy. I hope to get back in the swing of things soon. In the meantime, I'm enjoying reading everyone's comments.


message 27: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Take care of yourself Barbara. We will all be thinking about you.


Barbara Thanks, Val.


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