Extract from ‘Kadek, Kovkhruk, Katerina’

K must have been in his early thirties when it had first occurred to him. By then he’d already lost much time.  And yet the solution had been staring him in the face all the while.  It was obvious, once you’d made the connection. Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera, Ismail Kadare and Andrey Kurkov, Imre Kertész and Maxim Krokuš… all of the great east European writers, the ones who really counted, had names that began with a K.

And then there was Pavel Kadek.

That discovery (n + K = great east European writer) had provided the necessary stimulus to transform the failed English novelist (K) into a great writer in the east European tradition (Kadek). It was a nom de plume, of course, but much else besides. For K it had become a fully realised identity.  In order to write as a dissident it was necessary for him to inhabit the persona of one. And so his previous identity had been erased. Like the Buddhist who comes back as a cockroach, K behaved as though he had no memory of his former existence. And perhaps he had indeed forgotten that he’d once been Phillip Kemp, bank clerk and would-be novelist from the provincial town of Cobchurch. In one sense, then, this is a tale of homicide – how that former identity was liquidated by Kadek, how it was written out of the party records, airbrushed from the photos. It would be little wonder, then, if the authorities were to take an interest in his affairs, if a Kojak or a Banacek were to be assigned to his trail…

It wasn’t possible for an Englishman to write anything of a similar weight or depth.  His concerns were too trivial, his approach too constrained by decorum. Whom had England produced?  Kipling?  Keats?  That said it all.  The Americans had fared rather better. They could lay claim to Kerouac and Kesey and John Kennedy Toole (you just had to forget about Stephen King). And then there were those who sought to bring a little gravity to their works by smuggling that letter into their pen names: J K Rowling, G K Chesterton, Philip K Dick… Whom did they think they were fooling?

© PSR 2006

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