Adventures in Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher, translated by Michael Henry Heim

This is another novella rather than a short story. The author died aged only 28 and was bedridden for the last ten years of his life. He is only now starting to be recognised for his unique modernist style in his home country, and perhaps this is thanks to the reaction of readers in the West, who have compared him to Kafka, Robert Walser or Bruno Schulz.

This novella is an indefinable genre-buster, hovering somewhere between a prose poem, a memoir and a novel. The first-person narrator who gives us a detailed account of his childhood in a small provincial town, his encounters with women, his bodily sensations, his reaction to the small objects he picks up and the people he observes. This is a devastatingly honest and detailed account of living with the spectre of death in front of you all the time: the narrator’s reactions are very physical, immediate, powerful, occasionally excessive – as though he is trying to plunge himself into life, determined to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it.

“Ordinary words lose their validity at certain depths of the soul. Here I am, trying to give an exact description of my crises, and all I can come up with are images. The magic word that might convey their essence would have to borrow from the essences of other aspects of life, distil a new scent from a judicious combination of them. It would have to contain something of the stupefaction I feel watching a person in reality and then following his gestures in a mirror, of the instability accompanying the falls I have in my dreams and the subsequent unforgettable moment of fear whistling through my spinal cord, or of the transparent mist inhabited by the bizarre decors of crystal balls I have known… I had nothing to separate me from the world: everything around me invaded from head to toe; my skin might as well have been a sieve. The attention I paid to my surroundings, nebulous though it was, was not simply an act of will: the world, as is its nature, sank its tentacles into me…”

New Directions, 2015