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on 4 November 2017
A brilliant novel - mystifyingly relatively unknown. If you are at all sentient and care about language you will not put this down as you become one with the central character (a linguistics professor) battling to make himself understood in a strange country where all the usual rules of language are void and where he is tossed about on violent currents of 'being foreign'.
This book will make you reassess your outlook on anyone who is not from your own 'tribe' and you will shiver at the potential for being isolated for want of the mother tongue.
And then you'll want to read it again.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2016
Metropole is an instantly engaging story: A man, a linguistic academic on his way to a conference in Helsinki, takes a connecting flight in an airport, but obviously gets on the wrong plane and after falling asleep, arrives in an unknown city. Boarding a bus with a crowd of passengers he is taken to an hotel where he has a room but fails to understand where he is. And so begins his unfortunate adventure to try and make head or tail of what is happening. The language of the place is totally foreign with no connection to any known language, though he speaks very many, and the crowds everywhere prevent any kind of normal interraction. Nothing makes much sense and the constant overrowding in streets, shops or transport renders every move an ordeal.
It is a brilliant reflection on life in the modern City but also a kafkaesque situation where the protagonist is surrended by absurd or at least a logic he fails to grasp. He succeeds in forging the beginnjng of a relationship with the Lift operating girl at the Hotel but just when it could have been meaningful, it is cut short. Losing even his tenuous thread to normality at the Hotel, chaos arrives with a civil war and vanishes as quickly as it had spread. The ending is a slight let-down after a fantastic tale of trials and surprises, but on the other hand, it leaves the story open to further driftings or interpretations...an excellent modern classic.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 20 January 2014
I will admit that although I did enjoy this novel it isn't something that will ever probably garner mass appeal. There are a number of holes as it were in the plot that aren't sufficiently explained, and within a few pages of starting this you realise how Kafkaesque this is. Budai is flying in to Helsinki to attend conferences, but somehow he ends up in some mysterious place, where the language is totally unfamiliar to him, despite the number of languages he knows.

The story continues with Budai trying to learn the language, which he never really does, and his observations of the city he has arrived in. A dystopian novel in many respects this can also be seen in some ways as an allegory of Hungary, as near the end there is an uprising that is similar in many respects to that which happened in 1956. In all the time Budai is in this city he seems to be able to find no way of escape, although there is an underground railway there seems to be no aboveground railway, and although he arrives by plane, he seems unable to find the airport.

Captured here is the hustle and bustle of modern city living, especially as we have entered the age of mega-cities, which this seems to be in this book. What I find rather incongruous in this story is the image of a tower and the building growing floor by floor day in day out. Obviously the first thing that springs to mind is the biblical Tower of Babel, but as such it has no real context to the story. As with the uprising that takes place in this, we never actually find out if it was successful or not, as all signs seem to disappear that it happened and life goes on seemingly as before. Even the end of this, although upbeat does make you wonder how Budai suddenly came across what could be his salvation.

With Budai only making one friend in this book it does highlight the isolation and loneliness that people can feel suddenly moving to a big city, and the description of how people live in slums is reminiscent of how we can see cities growing still in some parts of the world.

Although a good read and thoughtful it is the holes in the story that stand out and detract from this thus making it very good, but not great.
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on 23 December 2010
In spite of reading the likes of Kafka and Orwell, I'd never heard of this book and only came upon it by accident. I was glad I did. The story captivated me from the first - the confusion, the press of people, the absurdity of the situation which was nonetheless dark and terrifying. There are flaws of course and I found the ending an enormous disappointment ("He would soon be home.") - almost infantile - as if the author had got bored of his endeavours and wanted to sum up quickly before rushing out for a pint. But I think my disappointment perversely is to the author's credit. If F Karinthy hadn't created such an engrossing and mystifying puzzle I wouldn't have cared so much for the outcome. Would recommend highly.
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on 7 November 2012
To read Metropole is to lose oneself in the story and the nightmare city it describes.

You will be absorbed within it, from the first few pages.

Nightmarish, realistic, claustrophobic, enthralling.

Join the hero, you will feel like you literally have.

Stunning SF.
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on 14 October 2015
'Metropole' appeared in Hungarian in 1970, but had to wait forty years to be translated into English. By repute, it is Ferenc Karinthy's best novel. The most common comparison is with Kafka, particularly the Kafka of 'The Trial' and 'The Castle'. As with most such comparisons, it is neither particularly helpful nor as much of a compliment to the author as is intended. Fortunately, Karinthy is his own man. Whether he possesses the uncanny power of Kafka is another matter.

The book might be placed as a late example of European existentialist fiction, with surreal flourishes. The central character, Budai, is a peripatetic academic who, by virtue of a series of events that may or may not be purely coincidental, finds himself deplaning in a mysterious country that is not his intended destination, and whose language he cannot understand. This is all the more alarming since Budai is a linguistician by profession. Taken to a hotel in the city nearby, he sets out to correct the mistake that has marooned him. The bulk of the book concerns his ever more desperate attempts to liberate himself, and the corrosive effects of his circumstances on his character and sense of identity.

Karinthy possessed a PhD in linguistics, and 'Metropole' is at some level a linguistician's perverse fantasy: the panic fear of mutual unintelligibility that dates back at least to the myth of the tower of Babel. The language of the strange and unnamed country is impossible to parse and ever-shifting. Budai finds himself in a sort of secular hell in which his best intentions are incommunicable and his professional skills useless. Karinthy observes how much of what we take to be our identity is given to us by others, and tied up in our ability to communicate. Without it, we are at the mercy of brute fact: unrecognised, and perhaps unrecognisable even to ourselves.

'Metropole' does not set out to create a completely logical, plausible dystopia. The non-language of the country is reminiscent of the enigmatic speech of dreams, stalled on the edge of meaning, which renders ideas of intelligible structure moot: and the book is probably best considered as a dream- or vision-narrative. It is certainly not merely an allegory of Communist society at the time of writing, which would be the most obvious interpretation: there is plenty here that is an implicit criticism of rationality itself.

Karinthy is not Kafka, and claims that 'Metropole' is a classic on the level of 'The Castle', or even 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' are exaggerated. Fortunately, the novel is worth reading in its own right, and George Szirtes' characteristically fluent translation makes this a pleasure. It is a pity that the original title – 'Epepe' – could not have been retained: in its very lack of meaning it is a pointer to the spirit of the book. Perhaps the demands of marketing to an English-speaking readership made that impossible.
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on 24 March 2013
I think I enjoyed this book! Read the first half avidly and got caught up in the tenseness and the character's inability to communicate. The second half of the book I found myself speed reading as I was desperate to get out of the book and away from the city which was causing him so much difficulty. It is not a comfortable read and all the better for it but if I'm honest I just wanted it to end! Maybe that is what the author intended!
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on 7 April 2011
Any number of modern, nightmarish novels are given the epithet of 'Kafkaesque', but most contemporary writers pale in comparison to the truly disturbing, oppressive, claustrophic and dark fiction of Kafka himself.

Well, in the modern Hungarian, Ferenc Karinthy (himself the son of a famous Hungarian satirist/novelist/journalist) and his novel, Metropole, you find a truly worthy successor to Kafka, not only for his most famous work, The Trial (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature), but also - for its equally claustrophic, trapped sense of nightmare without end, his most famous short story - The Metamorphosis (Dover Thrift).

The plot is, as with Kafka's work, straightforward; but it's in the novel's machinations, the relentless trial and tribulations of his character - here, Budai, a multi-lingual linguist - comparable to Joseph K.'s in The Trial, that you find yourself as a reader drawn in and ever downwards; conjoined with Budai's viewpoint on his world of suffering, alienation and incomprehension at arriving in a country and city that is massively, suffocatingly overpopulated and whose language he doesn't recognise whatsoever.

It is an astonishing work of fiction, with a translation that is seamless. The only complaint is that there are numerous errors in the copy-editing, which as all readers know can jar and upset the suspension of disbelief necessary to remain fully immersed in the fiction reading process itself. Highly recommended; I've no doubt Kafka himself would have been envious of this wonderful novel.
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on 15 June 2009
This is a stunningly good book about the nightmarish misadventures of Budai, a Hungarian linguist who, for reasons never explained, is diverted from Helsinki to an unnamed city. Here, bafflingly, considering his occupation, he can make neither head nor tail of the language, written or spoken. Deprived of this basic human need and, in the face of a population who are oblivious or even hostile to his plight he finds himself in a range of situations lovingly detailed by the other reviewers on this page who presumably want to save you the bother of reading the book. Karinthy (will someone please translate more of his work!) is clearly fascinated by language and how it gives us a hold on the world. In this city, linguistic structures appear to have fallen apart and the ramifications of this become clear towards the end.
The quotes that adorn the cover of this book are, for once, justified. If you want a reference point, Franz Kafka is an obvious one and Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Unconsoled' but this book stands alone as a masterpiece.
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on 16 July 2011
After all the hype that accompanied the book when it was recommended to me, I was expecting a mind-blowing intellectual feast. Sadly, it didn't happen.

I appreciate what Karinthy is trying to achieve and I'm certain this book could be life-changing for some people. For me, however, it seemed recycled and lacked consistency in quality. In the first third I couldn't escape the feeling that crudely moulded ideas were getting chiseled into my mind ("Yes, I get your point. I don't need this 14th example of the same stage of Budai's life."). Then it picks up, but the ending is predictable. It reminds me of a chick flick ending.

The question of language is tackled well. It can open your eyes to a whole range of questions of cognition and perception: activating schemata to aid interpretation of one's surroundings, language acquisition, etc. I wonder how much a non-linguistally-trained reader would take home from this book. For a linguist, it's neither here, nor there: too analytical for just-a-good-novel, but lacking the depth of insight that would leave a linguistically-aware person thinking.

Overall, a good read. For some people. Worth reading, if only to form your own opinion.
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