Many books have superlatives attached to them along the lines of "The best this", "The next that", "The Great American Novel", even "The Next On the Road", or more oftenly "In the Spirit of On the Road and Hunter S. Thompson". Few of them really deserve this kind of praise. Most of the authors descend into obscurity after being named as one of the new up and comers who will revolutionize everything. Moravagine, written by Blaise Cendrars in the post World War I years but only reprinted by New York Review of Books Press in 2004, is called, basically, a French Naked Lunch, or like Naked Lunch but funner to read, in all of the little blurbs it brings with it to the various websites where it's offered.
Although I have to say that Naked Lunch, at least in my opinion, really isn't that hard to read, Moravagine actually does succeed as being a kind of French Naked Lunch, although its Naked Lunch-ness ebbs and flows throughout. It's really good.
The story is told by a psychiatrist, our narrator. He believes that what people call madness is actually the next step in human evolution and has comitted himself to secretly identifying subjects who fit his description and helping them achieve their aims, basically to liberate them from mental hospitals and go with them on whatever adventures they pursue after being liberated.
To this end he finds a person by the name of Moravagine secretly held in a posh mental hospital in Switzerland. Moravagine is the last legitimate heir to the throne of Hungary and as such was kept in a kind of secret and plush captivity for the first part of his life. He's also somewhat deformed, which no doubt contributed to the sequestering, unfortunately. His existence would be a threat to the Austro-Hungarian crown. Well, during his isolation he gets to be half crazy and ends his stay in golden handcuffs by committing a brutal murder, of his court appointed fiance, after which he's put into solitary confinement in a cell in a prison. The solitary confinement lasts for ten years, after which he's probably totally insane. After the stay in prison he's secretly transferred to the Swiss mental hospital where our psychiatrist-narrator finds him, helping him escape. Hilarity ensues.
Right now I'm in a part where he's financing and organizing the Russian Revolution of 1905, seeing it as a means to completely destroy mainstream civilization and all its workings.
He waxes poetic about his understanding of things occasionally. Here's an excerpt of his thought before the revolutionary period:
'I am not of your race. I belong to the Mongol clan which brought to the world a monstrous truth: the authenticity of life and the knowledge of rhythm, which will always lay waster to your houses, static as they are in time and space, localized in their pigeon-hole rows. My stallion is more savage than your broken-winded gears, his horned hoof more perilous than your iron wheels. You do well to hem me in with the hundred thousand bayonets of Western enlightenment, for woe unto you if I leave the dark of my cave and set about in earnest to chase off your clamourings. And on my steep banks let your pontoneers never waken my aching tympanum, for I will unleash at you the curved wind whistling like a scimitar. I am impassive as a tyrant. My eyes are two war-drums. Tremble if I leave your walls as Attila left his tent, masked, swollen to giant size, wearing no more than the hooded cloak like my comrades in prison at the hour of ther last walk, lest with my strangler's hands, my hands reddened with the cold, I force open the bile-filled belly of your civilization!'