16 January 2019
‘Hypnotic … a bold feminist novel’ TLS
‘Arrestingly self-assured … hard to resist’ Guardian
Virtuoso is set in 1980s Prague. Just before Jana’s seventh birthday, a raven-haired girl named Zorka moves in to her building. As cracks begin to appear in the communist regime, Zorka teaches Jana to look beyond their building, beyond Czechoslovakia … and then, Zorka just disappears. As Jana and Zorka’s stories slowly circle across past and present, from Prague to Wisconsin to the lesbian bars of present-day Paris, they lead to a mysterious door on the Rue de Prague …
In the third of our new Postscript series, in which writers tell the story behind their book, Yelena Moskovich celebrates weirdness and the wonderful effect it can have on literature.
My writing often gets called “weird” (a badge of honor, thank you). Though I don’t think it’s just a matter of content or style, but rather the sensation of weirdness itself. The feeling of feeling weird – one of my essential joys. And boy do I love to feel weird within words.
So here I am, wriggling language out of its good manners.
(After all, though I don’t like horses, I’ll get on my highest one: it is I who is validating language by using it how I want and need to use it, not the other way around. It is we, the living ones who speak and write. Never forget who’s boss. Well, okay, I’m not sure I can claim to be the boss, but I’m not the boss’s secretary either. I’m a hacker in the system, let’s just say. Cleaning lady gone rogue.)
I love the nudity of words, when they take off their administrative clothes. I love the sensuality of transgressive syntax. I love the petty things like the godly things, lingual tantrums that turn into gospel, grammatical pranks that resurrect poetry, the blinding grace that emerges from sidewalk profanity…
Maybe it’s the grudge of a Soviet upbringing or a natural sense of non-conformity, but I both hate being told what to do, and am very good at obeying. A simultaneous upright citizen and heretic. Weirdness is the gravitational sense I make of these opposing poles. It’s the way I advocate for the contradictions within me, without trying to resolve them. It’s the way I express my devotion and my rebellion.
And it is also a question of space. To be weird is to be strange to oneself, and you need to have room for that. It means consciously making room for myself to act out and to observe. Virtuoso is a novel about this type of weirdness. It’s about making room within authoritarian structures (political, familial, romantic, spiritual, sexual). But it’s not only through the story or characters or even the style, but through the prose itself that actively pushes back on the patrimony of language.
In sum, it’s a weird book written by a weird author.
And on this day of its official birth, I raise a toast to weirdness, to the book’s, to mine, to yours. Blessed be, we kind-hearted crooks of formality.