A Week in a Quiet House, by Jan Neruda (1878)

Now I know the question that’s on your mind: – is there any connection between Jan Neruda and Pablo Neruda? – Well, yes there is. Pablo Neruda was so impressed by the works of Jan Neruda, that he named himself after him.

– Then how come, Mr Obooki, I’ve never heard of Jan Neruda.

– Well – and have you ever heard of any c19th (non-Russian) eastern-European writers?

Jan Neruda was a Czech writer and poet. This story is in a collection called Prague Tales, which is about the everyday lives of people living in a quarter of Prague called Malá Strana. This is where Neruda himself lived and it all appears to be autobiographical.

A Week in a Quite House is about a week in the lives of a group of people living together in a large house in Malá Strana. They are a disparate bunch due to sub-tenancy agreements: some are in love with others, who are in love with others, and they all live on top of each other. If it reminded me of anything, then it was Menander: – it has the same feel of new comedy, a bunch of anonymous neighbours whose lives become entangled in a comic situation.

Basically realist, the narrative voice is a little peculiar: – it is almost like a voice-over from a film, or that of a guide in a museum:

Passing through the kitchen, where we run into old Mrs Bavor again, now slaving away at the wash tab (she is the family maid), we enter the outer room.

I don’t know, there’s almost something slipping towards the nouveau roman about it.

And then there’s the character Václav. Václav is a young man who wants to be a writer. He is determined to be a revolutionary writer, and seems to look back to Sterne and Xavier de Maistre for his inspiration. Ten pages of the story are devoted to a story Václav has written: it is a collection of documents – diaries, reports from a legal case – some of which merely begin and cut-off mid-sentence – which together go to explain a story, which seems, for its basis, to be using the events – the relationships – which have occurred elsewhere in A Week in A Quiet House.

Tonight’s novella (probably): Un Bel Morir, by Alvaro Mutis


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