Original title: Houbařka
Spanish (L'Art de la Memòria Edicions, 2019), Catalan (L'Art de la Memòria Edicions, 2019)
Rights sold to:
Poland (Stara Szkoła), Macedonia (Muza), Bulgaria (Stylhouette)
Mycelium covers all manner of things.
Viktorie Hanišová made her debut in 2015 with Anežka / Anežka, a very well-received novel about a complicated relationship between a mother and her adopted daughter, hidden racism and stereotyping. This new story, too, is backgrounded by a family secret, which the protagonist has carried around since childhood and is trying to forget.
Sára lives in an old cottage in the Bohemian Forest, where she makes her living by gathering mushrooms. Every morning, she pulls on aged walking boots, grabs a basket and a dishcloth, caresses the sharp knife in her pocket and sets out. She had been following the same trail for seven years; for seven years, from spring to autumn, she has been picking mushrooms in the same places and selling them for a few hundred crowns. A hermit by choice, she has no friends and leaves the foothills only occasionally, to visit a psychiatrist in Plzeň, whom she strives to convince that her mental health is stable. So news of her mother’s death does little to change Sára’s life. But what seems of little consequence on the surface is raging down below.
I would say that Viktorie Hanišová's novel about 25-year-old Sára, called Sisi, who fled many years ago from society to a dilapidated cottage somewhere in Šumava, where every day during her long, practically ritual walks through the local landscape she attempts to find not only mushrooms, but also above all herself and her place in the world, is an original and well written prose work, which will appeal to no few readers. (…) Viktorie Hanišová's writerly skill is immediately apparent in her language work, as she clearly has the ability to create a naturally flowing stream of reflexes, meditations, monologues and dialogues. (….) The author's merits also include being able to appropriately 'prime' and stimulate the reader's attention with well-considered plot and motive compositions. (…) It can be anticipated that the male reader, and indeed even more probably, the female reader will finish Viktorie Hanišová's novel with the pleasant feeling that this is art, even though it is not actually revealed how that likeable but unfortunate girl actually ended up, but we can be happy, because we have had a nice read about something that is not so nice. Really not nice.
Pavel Janoušek, Tvar
Viktorie Hanišová also uses the mushroom (and in particular the mycelium) as an overarching metaphor to keep the entire text, otherwise well-structured and freshly narrated, even closer together. Contemporary Czech literature generally favours female protagonists with odd personal traumas, so a question almost arises whether The Mushroom Gatherer comes up with anything new. Let the readers judge for themselves, as their decision-making will be preceded by a pleasant reading experience.
Kamila Klímová, Iliteratura
Anežka, Malinka, Vitka, The Mushroom Gatherer – Host publishers in Brno have recently brought one notable literary heroine after another to light. The first and the last are from the same author: writer and translator from German (and English) Viktorie Hanišová, born in 1980. It is not by chance that German crops up here, as the author's mode of expression is distinctly 'German'. Precise and objective, painstaking and consistent, while also being dynamic and focused on the language itself, i.e. on the speech; the flame of the imagination is set at a minimum, with emotion in an iron shirt of irony and cynicism.
The Mushroom Gatherer is the type of prose work that we know rather well from contemporary Czech literature written by women (particularly by young and youngish women): e.g. by Petra Hůlová (Macocha), Dita Táborská (Malinka), Anna Bolavá (Do tmy) and Lucie Faulerová (Lapači prachu). The Mushroom Gatherer is also in favour of otherness, minorities and the margins, and this book points out the fragility of the concepts "normality" and "unnormality", while Hanišová's work also considers all that parents consciously or unconsciously dictate to their children.
However, type does not mean quality. Viktorie Hanišová has a sense for the structure of a novel plot, excellently mastering subtle distinctions in the characters' psychology. In descriptions and direct speech, she speaks in a highly visual, almost filmic manner. Artistically, everything basically works excellently here, enhancing our impression of the subject involved, and enabling her to grow beyond those rivals. And not just beyond them.
Radim Kopáč, Týdeník Rozhlas
[A book] with no false tears shows just what deep marks can be left in us by the treachery of those closest to us (…)
The motifs of family traumas and grievances bring Hanišová close to Petra Soukupová's works, while the subjects of social prejudices and the problematic acceptance of otherness are reminiscent of Petra Hůlová's texts. Her direct language and spontaneous narrative remind us there is strength in simplicity. But not everything is narrated to the final detail. It is up to the reader to work out what makes the mother ignore her daughter's unhappiness and why she constantly looks "in a daydream" or how the father experiences his guilt. However, The Mushroom Gatherer is not meant to be a psychological portrait of those involved. It is primarily an insight into the world of a woman who has become the victim of her parents.
Petra Smítalová, Lidové noviny
The Mushroom Gatherer is borne along in a gently meditative spirit, with streams of thought and rather sporadic dialogues dominated by descriptions of nature, memories of childhood spent in the Pošumaví region and extensive, detailed commentaries on the world of mushrooms.
As a family secret is gradually revealed, the plot is not complex. Although everything that happens in the finale can be foreseen, Hanišová very artfully keeps up the tension and the slow, unforced dynamic of the entire text (…)
The Mushroom Gatherer, which with a little goodwill might even be used as a mushroom gathering handbook, is a very successful novel, and it is not only because of its subject that it might proudly serve the world as a representative example of good contemporary Czech literature.
Lucie Zelinková, Právo