The plot of this novel is simple: Skylark, unmarried and not employed other than in the domestic arrangements of her family home, is persuaded to spend a week with relatives, leaving her ageing parents to fend for themselves. Freed from the stranglehold of her management and prejudices, they dine in restaurants, visit the theatre, stay up all night, and in the last hours before meeting Skylark at the train station scramble to return everything to its place and destroy all evidence of the high life they have led. It's a nice reversal of the more familiar situation of the young running to wild excess whilst parents are away.
Events are firmly anchored in time and place: the week from Friday 1st to Friday 8th September 1899 in the Hungarian town of Sárszeg, a fictionalised form of Subotica, the author's place of birth. By the time Skylark was written (first published 1924), the "war to end all wars" had swept away the easy-going, optimistic way of life described. Gone too was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Hungary had been deprived of two-thirds of its territory. Subotica had been attached to Serbia, a part of Yugoslavia. Skylark is a warts and all but very loving portrait of life in Hungary's second largest town in the last years before the cataclysm.
The closing pages of the book draw us into reflecting that although the triangular family relationship has been restored, it cannot be indefinitely sustained. Neither was Mother and Father's binge sustainable. Nor was it desirable that the life of the town as described should be sustained for ever, even if that were possible. Yet the new order that replaced it could hardly be said to have been better, and the conflagration of transition from the old to the new (of which we pick up just a hint in the narrative) was immeasurably worse. A relatively easy read of less than 60,000 words, this is a thought provoking novel.
The novel opens with a family preparing for their daughter going away to stay with relatives. It's only for a week, but as the train departs, Mother and Father 'could already feel their loneliness. Swelling painfully, it hovered around them in the silence.' They are saddened too by the unspoken knowledge of their daughter's ugliness, the fact that she will never marry. This novel focuses not on Skylark's holiday but on the week her parents spend. The family usually live quietly, economically. Their daughter does the cooking - good, plain food. But how will things go when they must manage alone? Enjoyable, comic in places but very sad too.