That’s All

Janusz Anderman
That’s All
  • Wydawnictwo Literackie
    Kraków 2008
    125x195
    312 pages
    paperback
    ISBN: 978-83-08-04261-8
    Translation rights: WL

The hero of the novel "That’s All" is a mature, embittered writer called Marek Torm. At one time he was a great literary star, author of eleven novels that were greatly admired and were published in huge print-runs. His run of good luck ended with the change of regime in 1989. Torm suffered a creative crisis, did not publish anything for a long time, and was quickly forgotten. He is convinced that in today’s literary culture the only writers with a chance of fame and recognition are those who are capable of causing a sensation (best of all a sex scandal) that the gutter press will write about, and that will attract the interest of television. He hopes that as the result of a shocking event his books will be reissued and a renewal of interest in him will follow, so he decides to videotape his own suicide. He plans to make a pitiful farewell speech to the camera and then shoot himself in the head with a pistol. For this purpose he travels from Warsaw to Krakow, the scene of his happy youth, when he enjoyed literary success and lots of amorous conquests. He moves into a flat that his publisher has provided for him as a convenient place to work. The narrative of "That’s All" is the frustrated writer’s monologue, and develops in two directions. On the present time-scale it is about the last three days preceding the suicide, which Torm spends on his own, drinking vodka and brooding on the past. The broadest layer is formed by these reflections – a sequence of digressive recollections and score-settling. Here the main feature, characterised by radical misogyny, is his effort to square accounts with the women in his life; into the foreground emerges the painful and at the same time extremely ironical balance sheet of his marriage. There are plenty of hints within the story to invalidate the reality of his declaration on the matter. Perhaps here we are dealing with a refined literary joke, a fiction within fiction, a morose as well as comical fantasy on the condition of the modern artist.

- Dariusz Nowacki

I have come to this city to kill myself in a spectacular way. I have decided to make an impression by shooting myself, because I want to live on. My shocking death, which is sure to be well publicised, will give my books a new lease of life for years to come: they will be sought out and read, connoisseurs of literature will heedfully pass the beads of my words through their fingers, and sentimental female students of Polish will write dissertations on those forgotten works. Maybe doctoral theses will appear, and I’ll get onto the school reading lists? They’re sure to feature in the textbooks for a long time yet, and in popular studies I’ll be seen as a cursed artist. It sounds pretentious, but nice.
I haven’t written a book for years. At one time, in the days of the old regime, my name was on everybody’s lips. Torm, my atypical, easy-to-remember surname, meant a lot in literature. It was respected and highly acclaimed. In the course of eleven years I published eleven novels. The publishers sought me out, and at every historical moment I knew how to operate with a refined efficiency that allowed me to maintain the love of my readers, the recognition of the literary milieu and a certain neutrality on the part of the authorities. On my part this demanded various tactical moves, but it wasn’t all that hard. I only had to act ahead of time, sometimes to foresee events and political trends, and to sense the moment when it was best to hide in the shadows.
At first the critics wrote that I was the hope of literature, later that the hope had been fulfilled, and one day one of them defined me as an outstanding writer.
After the fall of the regime I wrote two more novels, but for the first time ever my instincts let me down. Above all I published them at the wrong moment. I should have waited a few years, and only then reminded people about myself. I hurried, and that was a disastrous move. In fact the print-runs were still enormous, but the market was flooded with books by émigré writers that were bought out of curiosity, and third-rate Western romances, translated in a few nights by gangs of students hired by the publishers; each one got about a dozen pages to translate, and the resulting books went straight to press and reached the bookshops in attractive, gilded covers with embossed lettering never seen here before.
In this tidal wave my novels drowned. On top of that, in those stormy times, interest in literature soon began to wane. Colour weeklies and monthlies appeared and disappeared, new television channels came into being, and the screens were populated by a large crowd of heroes from countless soap operas; not much time had passed, but no one had the urge or the time to read books any more. A few years later the situation had improved and stabilised a bit, but I was already regarded as an author who brought substantial losses.
I experienced the first humiliation in my life as a writer when I saw my novel on sale at the Hala Koszykowa covered market. Hundreds of titles had been stuffed indiscriminately into plastic containers. The only difference was the prices, written on pieces of cardboard. I spotted myself in the box marked with the lowest price. I rapidly left that graveyard, because I was terrified that one of the numerous shoppers might recognise my face.
I immediately called the publisher and informed him that I was terminating our agreement. He couldn’t understand why.
“I don’t understand, Mr Torm,” he said.
“Why not? What’s so bloody difficult about it? My book at the Hala Koszykowa? In a box? Like some bloody carrots or something? Like potatoes?”
“You don’t understand the new times. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the wholesaler who took several hundred copies in one go and failed to get rid of them in the bookshops. But we had to send most of the print-run that I couldn’t foist on the wholesalers to be pulped.”
That was a word I had never heard before.
“Bloody hell, is it like in Hitler’s time already? Like the Stalin era? In that case maybe it’d be simpler to just burn books on pyres?”
“You don’t understand reality,” said the publisher calmly, and then suddenly he lost his temper. “Do you bloody well know what it costs to keep printed books in a warehouse? The cost exceeds the value of the books! Who’s going to cover those expenses? Me, perhaps? Well, fuck that!” shouted this hitherto subtle connoisseur of the classics, and without answering I hung up.
And after that, for years on end I have failed to write a single novel.
Now I have come to this city to kill myself in a spectacular way, and by doing so to force the readers, critics and historians of literature to bring my old novels back to life.
The plan was laid following a chance encounter at the Book Fair where I’d gone out of old habit.

The place where I’m going to shoot myself is the dream location. It is a high clock tower, adjoining the publishing house building. To climb up it, you have to go into the publisher’s vestibule, make your way into a gloomy little courtyard and turn right, into a doorway. Then all you have to do is surmount eighty-two concrete steps. On the right off the final landing there’s an entrance to an area from which I think you can go higher, up to where the clockwork is housed. On the left there’s a door into the publisher’s service flat. You enter a long corridor, off which there is a toilet. Through another door the corridor continues. Three doors lead off it into a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, from which you go through into a bedroom. In the main room, directly opposite a three-winged bow window, stands a large table, at which I am supposed to be writing a book, but I won’t be needing it. I will be making use of one of the two armchairs and a small round table. There’s other stuff here, but it’s of no use to me. There are three cupboards with lockers and bookshelves. In one of them, behind some small glass doors, there’s a photo from years ago, printed off and glued to a piece of cardboard. It shows this same building with the clock tower; the hands are stuck at twelve thirty-three. In the photograph there’s a curtain or drape hanging in the central part of my three-winged window. The caption reads: “Chamber of Commerce and Industry”. There’s no way of telling when the building was photographed, because I don’t recognise the vehicles at the foot of it. Two of them are droshkies. But the three with their backs facing? Droshkies too, with their hoods up? Or maybe the first taxicabs? More like droshkies, because the wheel rims are extremely narrow. So maybe the picture dates from the beginning of the century. It doesn’t matter.

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones