Novel, "Ego Prose" series, Polirom, 2009, 262 pages
Matei Florian has created a fantastical world peopled with a legion of gnomes that consist of coloured mist. At the forefront of this legion, a new couple are getting ready to join the gallery of legendary lovers: Both Hams and Regretel (N.B. this is a single name and a single character, the novel’s hero) and his wonderful Tristina. Their adventures in the world of the ‘even-legs,’ i.e. grown-ups, do not take as smooth a course as you might expect for such fairytale figures. These creatures of mist, some of them lisping or even crossed with pixies, endure tribulations and even tragedies, the same as the humans around whom they float... Indeed, their sufferings are no different than those of the humans amongst whom they move, and in this the novel is much more than mere fantasy. Matei Florian allows his mist-begotten characters into the story precisely in order to give fuller shape to a deeper, human story, in which love swings between the realm of dream and waking, in a dance of yearning, interspersed with drama. Both Hams And Regretel is a fascinating book that takes the reader on a journey through the whole spectrum of emotions.
GOOD MORNING! PARDON me for waking you up at this hour, it must be around four, it’s pitch black, if you want to sleep some more, I’ve got nothing against that, I’m not even asking you to open your eyes, let alone start making coffee, sleep snugly and listen to me, I almost wish I could reach you, for a little while, for a few moments, to see the city swathed in mist, that green, yellow, blue, chimerical mist, but ultimately still mist, the same mist as here; look, certain things are beginning to dawn on me, for example, why Usi, Altfred and Regretel wouldn’t be able to live in the city; just think of it, it’s easy, imagine how bewildering the street lamps and advertising hoardings would be to them, how long it would take them to realise that all this mist is nothing but an illusion, that there is no question of the boulevards being thronged with gnomes, that tucked away in the coloured mist there is no one to juggle raindrops, no, the neon and the lightbulbs can’t do that, just you try to persuade them and you’ll see how they look at you askance, how they look at you in amazement and sadness, no, they will never understand how coloured mist can be anything other than a dwelling place for gnomes, it’s their prerogative, I tell you, and maybe they are right, maybe this is the way it should be, except that I can’t stop wanting to be with you, to gaze mindfully at the slumbering boulevards and espy him there, among the blinking yellow traffic lights and the huge hoardings advertising beer, to espy that flickering gentleman who has made his shelter in my hair, who breathed softly with me all night, who fastened me with his steady blue gaze whenever I awoke giddy and frightened from that interminable bad dream, that gentleman somewhat taller than a dandelion seed and more thickset than a curled leaf huddling in the cold, you have no idea how dear to me he is, how I would guard him from any red gleam, be it a stop light or the colour of coca cola, maybe it’s better like this, me being here, I swear to you, I couldn’t bear to see him snuffed out, in amazement, and vanish forever, this much is clear, Regretel has no business being where you are now, and I am indebted to remain with him for as long as we still need each other, for as long as his soft light soothes me after every nightmare, and the tangled strands of hair on the crown of my head are still of some use to him. Sleep, don’t worry about me, I’ll still write to you, all the same, it’s enough for me to know that you are at peace, you needn’t turn over, although perhaps it wouldn’t be all that bad if you did, so that I could admire your tall brow and arching eyebrows, so that I could caress your eyelids with my gaze, your eyelashes and high, Amazon cheekbones, so that I could timorously draw closer to your fleshy lips and then draw away again bearing that most precious of things, your exhalation, I’m not quite sure what I would do after that, probably I would cup my palms fearful lest your warm breath be scattered, lest it abandon me, there are caresses I would never have been able to imagine, but never mind, don’t turn round, the main thing is for me to sense that you are there, then your back can twitch at the soft, ever so soft touch of my fingertips, with eager bashfulness, then your skin can harbour so many lost moles that it would be a shame not to awaken them to life, summoning them to quiver, to breathe, to delight in my fingertips, then, don’t forget that my hands were born from your waist, thence they detached themselves and set off through the world on their own, bound to me only by accident, and thither, to that long and undulating nook, they shall return one fine day. Sleep. I have no one but myself to blame if I can’t do that, if I’m afraid to close my eyes when I think that I might dream of you again, believe me, you wouldn’t want to find out what goes on in those dreams, probably they would frighten you, too, probably you wouldn’t want to read my letters any more, and so it’s better that I don’t say anything, Regretel is the only one who understands me, that’s why I need him so much; you know, once upon a time, long ago, he was called Both Hams And Regretel, he was a gnome like any other gnome, I mean to say he was a garden gnome, to be precise, a friendly, cultivated gnome, an elegant, courteous gnome, sociable and considerate, delicate and dreamy, I don’t know what you imagine, but garden gnomes are not at all rosy-cheeked and misshapen, with pointy caps and waistcoats, with beards and long stockings and stupid grins, the kind of gnomes that we, the even-legs, use to decorate garden paths, no, it would be crass in the extreme to believe such a thing, who has ever heard of a red gnome? haven’t you understood that a gnome turns red only when he dies? that this is the only way you can make a gnome disappear? that, if the even-legs did not exist, only dreadful suffering, profusion of years or unshakeable determination would turn them into that infamous colour? So, don’t you paint your nails red ever again! Don’t you parade yourself with clotted blood on your nails ever again! Let us be quite clear about that. Do you understand? In any case, every real garden gnome hates the others, our gnomes, and there is no gale or shower through which they will not furiously rush against them, in order to smash them in pieces. Regretel, for example, did not suffer such outbursts, but he did despise them from with all his soul: ‘You can’t smile all the time. No, probably not. You’re crinkled, wrinkled, tinkled. You’re an ugly. Ugly!’
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Both Hams And Regretel is a book of strange beauty, without compare in Romanian literature.”
“Matei Florian’s solo debut with Both Hams And Regretel was greeted at the end of last year as a literary Christmas present and as a ‘book unique in Romanian literature’. (…) The narrator of this surrealistic opus, whose chapters, seven in number, all begin with the magical formula ‘Good morning!’ is a solitary young man, who, at the onset of winter (and, as we later learn, on the threshold of death), has withdrawn to a ‘ramshackle house’ in the mountains, built for an unreachable (and, as we later learn, dead) lover, to whom he sends long, heart-rending and incoherent love letters, describing his loneliness, which, by way of compensation, is populated with miraculous creatures.”
“Both Hams And Regretel is a singular book in the current literary landscape, a delicate, ludic text, with notes of fairytale and irresistible humour, which reveals the full extent of Matei Florian’s talent as a writer, establishing him as an idiosyncratic voice.”
“This is a rare, hybrid book of moods and contrasts, which, in the apparent delirium in which it unfolds on first contact, hides the clarity in which, for whoever has the time and patience, unfold even the most tangled of emotions and ordeals, as a rule those that are the most essential.”