Jana Beňová, Seeing People Off: A Manifest of the Quartet, trans. Janet Livingstone (Columbus: Two Dollar Radio, 2017).
In English we say "to each his own," and the French say chacun son goût. I have no idea what the proper way to express this in Slovak is, but what we used to say when we lived there was Každá ma svoj faktor; literally, "Each [woman] has her own factor," as in SPF. It came from one of the most outrageous instances of nascent capitalism in mid-90s Slovakia: a billboard showing five female bottoms, clad only in string bikinis, ranging from very pale on the left to tawny and tanned on the right—with the slogan printed across the bottom(s).
The point of mentioning this is not, actually, to expose the lurid epiphenomena of consumerism unleashed on long-deprived central Europeans. It's to say that every culture recognizes that, to use another English proverb, "there's no accounting for taste." On some level, people like what they like, and at some level, it's not a matter of good or bad—it just is.
All of this is my clever decoy in hopes of not disappointing the literati when I say that I did not like Seeing People Off, I did not understand it, and I cannot fathom why it won the 2012 European Union Prize for Literature. Now you know the truth: I'm a Philistine.
The novel isn't really a novel. One review admiringly calls it a "long, ambling, prose poem," which I think, translated out of the insider-speak of so-called literary fiction, really means "disjointed scrawlings of someone who can't be bothered to plot a plot." There are four characters (we never get much of a feel for any of them) who occasionally narrate in the first person and occasionally are narrated in the third. Just when you think something might happen—for instance, an affair—it doesn't. (Or did it? I couldn't really tell.) There are brief meditations on Petržalka, the hideous communist high-rise neighborhood across the Danube from the Old City of Bratislava; I guess the book is supposed to capture the feeling of living in one of those cells. There are provocative allusions that deceive you into thinking they might amount to something, like references to the Gestapo and deported Jews. But they go nowhere. The principal voice, Elza, is in the process of writing a book called (ready?) Seeing People Off. In the end, the book comes off as an exercise in trying to out-postmodern the postmoderns.
In principle, I have no objection to literary experimentation. It's a constant frustration I have with my own discipline that it is so monotone in its genres. So, sure, metafiction has its place, and if people experience life as fragmented episodes strung together in no particular order, art may as well depict that. But that's just not the color of my bottom. Každá ma svoj faktor.