Burnout

Petr Šesták

Petr Šesták: Burnout

Original title: Vyhoření


Genre: novel


Publisher:

Host, 2023


ISBN: 978-80-275-1812-8


Pages: 130


Awards:

shortlisted for Magnesia Litera in the Prose category 2024

Summary


Novelistic pamphlet about the life of humans in a world of cars

 

Oscillating around the axis of polemic—novel—allegory, this text argues against fetishization of the car as a symbol of progress, independence, power and privatization of the world. All cars have an allegorical undercurrent. The narrator is a courier who delivers food around town, pedals too much, thinks as much as he pedals, and spends much of his day exchanging insults with other road users. Our delivery boy stands on one side of the barricades in the civil war of the streets. His harrowing travels through enemy territory and his implacable fight for justice (whether real or imagined) lead towards callousness and hatred.     

The follow-up to Petr Šesták’s memorable novel Continuity in the Park is another work that defies the reader’s expectations. A cross between a polemic and a novel, it presents its opinions with unabashed clarity. Why should literature address a matter from all sides when this matter is unambiguous? This story of a delivery boy who brings food to the luckier and less considerate among us really gets a move on!

This work is about growing irreconcilability of antagonisms in society and its systems, amplified by technology. Are we users of technology’s tools or the tools themselves? 


Reviews

"An incisive novel, which demonstrates that even the pamphleteering genre can be handled in a subversive and inspiring way. Its narrator, a food-delivery bicycle courier, angrily denounces contemporary capitalist society, symbolically embodied in the automobile. He  addresses his motorist adversary using a disrespectful pronoun, thus basically lashing out at every car owner. However, anger and implacability gradually eat away at the courier, and the character, who initially inspires sympathy – and whose cycling jihad seems righteous – turns into an aggressive fanatic. Šesták’s pamphlet thus becomes a multifaceted allegory that leaves more questions than clear answers. The author’s shrewd choice of a fitting genre and of an unreliable hero also avoids accusations that he is being formulaic and that the cyclist’s exclamations are emotionally manipulative – all of which can be attributed to the narrator, whose schematic view of the world Šesták sardonically criticizes."

Statement made by the Magnesia Litera panel

 

"A sharply engaged text that highlights motoring as a serious issue in the modern-day world, while doing so in a deliberately exaggerated way, with elements of the grotesque and the fantastic, (...) in spite of which, however, the message of the book is quite topical, real and – let’s face it – serious."

Jan Lukavec, Iliteratura

 

"Here I felt a similar rush of emotions, from sadness to helplessness to uncontrolled rage [like after watching David Fincher's film Fight Club] from the last pages of Petr Šesták's book Burnout. This slim 135-page volume from Host Publishing also has an anonymous hero, who feels increasing frustration over the world he lives in. Specifically, over the streets of Prague, where he works as a cycle courier, constantly under attack by people in cars, who take the city they share to be their own space, where a slow cyclist has no place, as they rush to get to their work, which they need in order to get an even faster car, to get an even better job, which gets them an even faster car, and so on and so forth.

Šesták doesn't need to wipe out the entire metropolis in the end, as he only settles accounts there with a selected businessman who, with all he does, has “only got his just desserts”. He does so, however, with an equally apocalyptic intensity that resonates long after the last page is read. In this masterful pamphleteering, Šesták manages, as did Palahniuk twenty-five years ago, to capture something more than just the book’s overarching storyline."

Jan H. Vitvar, Respekt

 

"The main engine behind this pamphleteering novel is the plausible, fluent yet fresh language, thanks to which it is almost unnecessary to ask whether Burnout is more a novel, a manifesto, a pamphlet or a fictionalized feuilleton. (...) It is a distinctive text that stands out in many ways within the context of contemporary Czech prose."

Jonáš Kucharský, Seznam zprávy

 

"Šesták is surgically precise, cold and incisive in his forays into the workings of society. The book could be torn up into its individual pages, each of which would make a fine trenchant newspaper column.

But it is not as if Šesták just sees the fault in consumer society and boundless liberalism, in which a superficial perception of individual freedom makes the streets a place for individuals to commute between corporate car parks and their garages at home. Even anti-consumerism activists will get their fix, at least until they “come to their senses” and join the system.

Šesták’s style is refined, each sentence fitting neatly in with the next, with no filler. The language is witty and succinct and perfectly complements the frantic, bare rhythm of the protagonist’s life.

The courier gets deeper and deeper embroiled in his deliberations, becomes increasingly radical and abandons all compassion and empathy. He stops seeing the people behind the wheel and in the seats of the cars and instead he just sees cars. He starts to fight back, and his attacks escalate.

This all comes to a head in a shocking conclusion, most frightening because of the lack of emotion on the part of the perpetrator, as if he, too, has become a machine."

Jiří Březina, Seznam médium

 

"Following his book about an “analogue childhood”, Continuity in the Park / Kontinuita parku Petr Šesták has come up with a “cross between a pamphlet and a novel”, this time about the motorization of society and our fixation on cars."

Andrea Bodnárová, Full Moon

 

"‘Burnout is like a chocolate box full of sour, bile-filled chocolates,’ says writer Petr Šesták about his prose work. This book, which tells the story of an angry delivery boy, could win the Magnesia Litera Award. It is more sophisticated than it might at first appear.

(...) This rhythmically written text feels like an action-packed ride through an angst-ridden city and at the same time an appeal to the reader to reflect upon our obsession with cars, as well as on where uncontrolled rage can lead."

Jonáš Zbořil, Seznam Zprávy

 

"Petr Šesták’s new prose work is a socially sensitive, angry and radical pamphlet from a time when automobiles are being launched into space as symbols of the past, present and future. It should be made compulsory reading for all pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, armchair activists and actual saboteurs. (...)

While reading Petr Šesták’s Burnout, I enjoyed this accurate and yet very vivid description of a problem that is simmering beneath the surface of the apparent normality of the contemporary world.

(...) Šesták manages to convey an intimate and believable insight into the precarious world of wage-earning “entrepreneurs” who, as the modern incarnation of exploited workers, earn their living without employee benefits, living from hand to mouth and virtually invisible to society. (...)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Czech prose in which I felt it was worth underlining every other paragraph. (…)

The cyclist speaks to, addresses, raises his voice to and sometimes shouts at the representatives of various social classes sitting behind the wheel. Social criticism is interspersed with a subversion of established thought patterns, while humorous psychological excursions are based on historical insertions involving the tradition of Fordism and on a gender critique of motoring, which is more than anything else a showcase of inflated egos and toxic masculinity. From the position of one who delivers expensive meals in compostable packaging, the courier comments on the absurd hypocrisy of our times, greenwashing and war, “full of cars, roaring engines and exhaust smoke”.

(…)

Like a true pamphlet, Burnout is implacable. (...) Šesták’s book is undoubtedly very timely,  closely mirroring the phenomena peculiar to our era, even though blocked trunk roads, punctured tyres and burning cars are as yet only marginal phenomena, so it will take some time for their relevance to become evident. (...)

Burnout was nominated for the Magnesia Litera Award main category, which is not only of importance because of its shaky “best of” status, but also due to the media attention: the book is going to get more talked about and might eventually reach a much wider audience. If this year’s Magnesia is to be meaningful then it ought to be won by Šesták’s pamphlet, which has the potential to make casual readers think about seemingly obvious things, and to make them angry and expose them to an incomprehensible world outside their comfort zone. Few works can do this. For this reason, too, Burnout, which radically names a radical reality in which the car world is “built on the ruins of the future”, can be considered a winner regardless of what the actual results are."

Karel Kouba, A2

 

"(The author) attracted most attention three years ago with his novel Continuity in the Park – to this day it has been one of the mysteries of Czech literary life why it has not won any major prize. (...)

If we take Burnout purely as a novel, or rather, given its size, a novella, it will handsomely reward us, first and foremost by how different it is from “mainstream” books. The rule of thumb for reading success today is: describe everything to me, then explain it to me more than once just to be sure, so that I don’t get confused even for a moment. Petr Šesták offers the opposite, that is, narrative asceticism. (...)

If we take [the end of the book] as a metaphor, a gesture derived from other books or films, the seemingly unobtrusive title of the book comes into play again, in a crucial sense. It forces us to go back to the beginning and read it again in a different way.

Burnout is perhaps a little less interesting than Šesták’s previous Continuity in the Park. But it is still one of the most interesting things contemporary Czech prose has to offer."

Petr A. Bílek, Aktuálně

 

"Petr Šesták proves that he has an analytical spirit and is ruthlessly consistent – once again, thanks to Burnout, we have contemporary society in the palm of our hands. (...)

Petr Šesták is so appealing, because he delivers attractive, punchy definitions. (...)

Even if the reader does not always agree with the narrator of Burnout, he must at least admit that he has gone over the top in a likeable way."

Ondřej Horák, Lidové noviny

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