Before I encountered Klima's work, which is subtitled, "a grotesque romanetto," I did not know that a romanetto is a specifically Czech genre, a lyrical work meant to be shorter than a novel but which is to include the paranormal and with a scientific explanation at the end, more or less like science-fiction. Czech writer, Jakub Arbes, whose works have never been translated into English, was a contemporary of Ladislav Klima for a brief time, having been born much earlier than Klima, and Arbes was the originator of this genre.
Well, Klima's work here fits the definition perfectly since it definitely deals with the paranormal or supernatural and there is a fictional scientific explanation at the conclusion of the work; it is also only 173 pages long and contains many passages of some of the most beautiful lyrical flights imaginable, but it also includes gritty droppings of the grotesque that include gothic horror and elements of De Sade in regard to mutilation and excrement, which perhaps makes this romanetto Klima's own.
While the description of the main elements thus far may preclude some or average readers from a strong interest in the work, I must say that this work is immensely entertaining in its humor, wit, plot, and -- here's the point -- it's a fantasy, folks! The most grotesque aspects of the work -- and there are only a few, however notable or shocking -- recede into the background while the humor and the plot stay in the foreground.
Ladislav Klima regarded himself as a philosopher much in the style of Diogenes who dressed himself in a barrel and went without clothes. Klima wrote 30 novels in addition to works in philosophy, and this work is the first of Klima's fiction to be translated into English. I think some of the lyrical flights expressed in the work were inspired by Klima's philosophy and philosophical outlook; the beauty of many passages -- yes, despite the grotesque elements -- holds the reader's attention not simply because of the style or the syntactical structure of the passages but because Klima's philosophy penetrates the poetic language and the mind becomes aware of an inner logic that entices with metaphysical possibilities.
This translation is particularly gorgeous and astounding because Klima's language runs from the vulgar to the sublime and Prince Sternenhoch, the main focal point for the work, is someone who, in one moment, seems to live in the gutter while, in another moment, expresses the most super-celestial thoughts imaginable. Klima's character also writes and speaks in Latin, using profoundly eccentric phrases in order to express himself. I felt Carleton Bulkin translated Klima perfectly -- into the most contemporary, idiomatic and lyrical English the modern reader can only fully appreciate.
While at the back of the book there are four pages of Notes that help clarify the Latin expressions used by the Prince, I felt the book as a whole could have used even further Notes as this book contains not only Klima's first English translation of his fiction but as well a profoundly interesting and captivating "Autobiography" (which this reader read twice with uninterrupted enthusiasm: Klima would eat mice whole, bones and fur and all!) that contains many German phrases but there is a concluding essay by Josef Zumr, and it would have been equally interesting to have had further Notes about Zumr as well as Klima here.
In the grotesque romanetto, the reader will find this sentence, riddled with black humor, as the Prince proceeds to talk with Helga, his wife, who now, ostensibly, is a ghost: "I killed you once, girl, what's to prevent me from killing you again?" In another passage, Klima describes the Prince's perception of ghostly wife who has seemingly returned to life, saying she looked "like a water goblin suffering from jaundice."
The Prince lives in madness, hallucinations and in radiant and gorgeous reality over and over again oscillating in and out of duality such that what's muddied cannot be distinguished from what's transcendental. Apparently, Klima used the character of the Prince to demonstrate -- undogmatically -- that the whole of waking life is born of "Omni-idiocy," the state of humanity or the average man or woman. In this sense, Ladislav Klima resembles G. I. Gurdjieff in his contempt for the average "machine," but which Klima calls "chiropteran humanity."
For such a short and slight tale of the paranormal or the supernatural, it carries quite a punch -- a diverting, compelling and memorable one.
Besides owing its existence to the Gothic horror story or to early elements of Surrealism, I think this work also owes a tribute to Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights."