I stayed up late last night drinking pineapple juice, eating warm fig rolls and having the toes of my left foot massaged: almost the perfect conditions for re-reading C P Pedrik’s novella A Mouse for Magda. I read it first in Vienna, on a park bench – and was not overly impressed. Second-time round, one shakes the literary jar with more expertise; with a far more cunning swing of the wrist. Lo and behold, more things rise to the surface.
The story, as you may know, is a simple one. Magda wants a mouse. She can’t get one. Her parents (Magda is, for most of the story, a child) won’t allow her to keep a pet and her attempts to capture a wild mouse consistently fail. She lives, it seems, in the only region whose cheese (a runny goat variety) is considered passé to the rodent population. Only when she becomes an adult does she finally manage to procure her perfect mouse. It carries disease – and both Magda and her mini-mammal hop into a canoe, clutching a one-way ticket to nothingness.
Pedrik (author, of course, of The Ignoble Trilogy) tackles his topic with the usual tenacity, boring into child pyschology like the manic woodworm he is. ‘Boring’, some might say, is the operative word (‘to read Pedrik is to willingly sink into a state of hebetude’ wrote Peggy Grounter recently) but I would disagree. So long as one is open to engaging with this work, the hidden layers will almost certainly open up in front of you. Like jasmine and amaranth blossoming in the hot water of intellectual curiosity. Like the mating dance of the Pisi-Pisi finch. Like the artichoke I ate last thursday.
One note lingers. F# or G? It’s hard to tell… Still, I wonder – should I be feeling sorry for Magda? Pedrik teases our emotions throughout; not roughly, but with forcefully gentle hands, moulding our thoughts like putty. He loves characters who frustrate the reader: who can be neither hated nor loved; who are almost literally taken to our hearts, whether we want them there or not. There they sit and brood, keeping the blood pumping with the rhythm of their personal history. B-bum, B-bum, B-bum. Magda does not command sympathy: she is – and that is all. It is enough.