Gregor von Rezzori Richard Plant - Essay

Richard Plant

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If there ever existed a melting pot, it was the city of Tchernopol, situated in some vague Eastern European country …, a place thriving on splendid feuds, relishing wit and stupidity, and living in four centuries simultaneously. Tchernopol, formerly imperial Austrian, now Polish or Czech—who knows? possesses an alert skepticism of everything, above all of itself. The city is the heroine of this strange, brilliant and exasperating novel ["The Hussar"] by Gregor von Rezzori….

In many respects, this is a picaresque novel, abounding in knaves, rascals, innocent children and talkative bystanders. The scoundrels have the upper hand in every way, and the earlier chapters will lull readers into a false security: namely, that we are in for a delightful chronicle of roguery. But although the scalawags in Tchernopol deceive everyone except other scalawags, the author fools his readers, changes keys gradually and ends on a nearly tragic note. We must emphasize the word nearly—it is hard to say when the author wants us to take him seriously. Most of the time, he seems to be winking at the reader while relating the capricious doings of his bizarre characters….

What about plot? What about heroes? Mr. Rezzori can't be bothered. He presents a mosaic of anecdotes, contemplations, lyrical hymns (descriptions of neglected gardens delight him forever), arguments, parodies, sketches and dialogues discussing all events described, plus others he has had no time to relate. He never catches up with himself. His inventiveness is as unlimited as his gusto and energy. He mixes the comic and the horrifying; he exalts the tender beauty of a feminine character on one page, and, on the next, spends as much time recounting a freakish business deal….

To be truthful, Mr. Rezzori does not care much for connecting incidents. He is enamored of his language, which seems to produce all the characters and incidents. It is typical of the book that most of its people are enthusiastic talkers….

Now and then, the author interrupts himself and promises to get on with the story, but he is not able to do so. In less experienced hands this nonchalance might have become fatal. Mr. Rezzori's narrative, gushing forth from the well of a boundless imagination, is never dull.

Richard Plant, "Scoundrels Had the Upper Hand in Every Way," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1960 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 10, 1960, p. 4.