Love (Pétér Nadas, 1971)
A recurrent nightmare I tend to have is one where I think I’ve woken up, but I’m actually asleep. I check my watch, put my socks on, go to the toilet, and then I realised I’m in a dream. I check my watch again, put my socks, go to the toilet to find out that I still haven’t woken up yet. The nightmare turns oppressive the moment I’m unable to discern if I’m in bed or not. Something similar happens to the narrator of this novella: not only he doesn’t know if he’s alert or unconscious, but he also can’t differentiate if he’s sober or lost his mind, or, even worse, if he’s dead or alive.
Dreams can be illuminating, but so exhausting sometimes.
The book’s title might be misleading because Pétér Nadas, one of Susan Sontag’s favourite writers, shows little to no interest in exploring what love means. It’s not an erotic novel either even though the book cover might suggest otherwise. (Other international covers also depict a naked woman on a bed for some reason). The Hungarian writer focuses on more profound and universal themes like identity and the human psyche instead of a subject as puerile and insignificant as love.
After smoking a joint with his girlfriend, hee hee, the nameless main character becomes severely disoriented. The narrator thinks he’s been in a trance for hours, but then realises it’s just only been a matter of seconds. He sees himself outside his body and, seconds after, he goes completely blind. Considering all the torment he endures after smoking some weed, this novella could’ve worked as an argument against drugs if it wasn’t so intellectual and obtuse to convince anyone.
The protagonist finds himself trapped in a loop, and thanks to Nadas’s use of repetition, the reader as well. Love, which it’s clearly not about love, is a fever dream that keeps asking the eternal question: is life just a dream? Or is the afterlife just waking up after a horrible nightmare? Love is a transcendent psychedelic novella that could have only been written under the influence of narcotics.
Who knows? Maybe Love is an argument in favour of drugs after all.
Original title: Szerelem
By Pétér Nadas | 1979 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 128 pages