Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Metropole, a sprawling metropolis, alleyways of claustrophobic narrative tapering to an anxious dead end. The city is a maze, the people part of its mechanism, signs written in an unknown and changing script, there is no help at hand...you must escape. In Metropole we find a new vision of hell, a hell that is human, that forces us to stare inwards and observe the cold solitude that lurks beneath the skin.
Metropole has often been lauded as a 'future classic' a book waiting for it's induction onto the shelves of 20th century immortality, sitting alongside the likes of 1984, the Trial and Brave New World. Yet, it seems to be the lesser cousin of these literary greats, a difficult book to get your bookmark in when searching the shelves of most libraries. This only adds to its enigmatic allure, of course, a book about being lonely in a crowd, lost, disorientated and afraid which is as hard to find as it is to put down if you're lucky enough to find it.
Metropole was written in 1970 and originally titled 'Epepe' after the protagonist's only companion and ally on his journey through an unknown world. Originally written in Karinthy's native Hungarian, it was first translated into English and published as 'Metropole' in 2008. The story follows Budai a linguist and translator on his way to a linguists conference in Helsinki. On the way, he stumbles through his flight transfer in a jet lagged stupor and somehow ends up in an unknown city. What follows is the tale of his demise as his identity, status and ability to communicate are stripped away from him.
Budai is a sensible, intelligent man, yet his every attempt to use logic against the oppressive walls of his impending isolation are immediately thwarted. The deep irony of a linguist that can't communicate soon turns into fist clenching frustration, it is an uncomfortable read. Perhaps that awkward frenetic anxiety is something we can all relate to, unable to express his ideas in a way others can understand, unable to be recognised and acknowledged for who he is in terms of his status, language and name, when his name is all he has left and it is taken, we ask that most basic question 'who am I?'
Read Metropole and you will recognise a journey that we all embark upon. Only through the deconstruction of the self can we understand who we really are.