cover image Harlequin’s Millions

Harlequin’s Millions

Bohumil Hrabal, trans. from the Czech by Stacey Knecht. Archipelago (Random, dist.), $18 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-981955-73-5

A surreal and loquacious tale by Hrabal (I Served the King of England) takes place in a retirement home tucked within a small Czech castle. After selling their villa, a nameless woman and her husband, Francin, become the home’s newest residents. Though familiar with the castle—Francin’s older brother, Pepin, who is ill, has lived there for several months—the pair still find themselves adjusting to the new environment. While Francin envelops himself with news of the world, his wife—Hrabal’s narrator—explores the castle, discovering secret statue gardens, beautiful battle frescoes hung up in the eating hall, and a trio of men (known as the “witnesses to old times”) who whisk her away with tales of their shared home, a “little town where time stood still,” visible from the castle windows. As the narrative unspools (while the record “Harlequin’s Millions” plays nonstop at the home), the backstory of Francin and his wife takes shape. But Hrabal is more interested in constructing a book of memories: his narrator and the people around her frequently recall past triumphs and humiliations, former friends and acquaintances. Billed as “a fairy tale,” the novel, at times, fancifully confounds expectations: a visiting doctor’s lesson on classical music turns into a psychotic rampage, for example. And Hrabal’s long, lyrical sentences (each chapter consists of a single paragraph) are not only exquisitely constructed, but also as spirited as the scenes they illustrate. (May)