Has anyone ever heard of a Croatian writer called H. Manice? I have one of his novels and saw another seven or eight titles during my recent visit to Dubrovnik.
His books were on a shelf in the apartment where we stayed. There were more copies stashed on book shelves and piled in alcoves along the stairs and twisting corridors that led to our front door.
I flicked through them and settled on one called The Master’s Box. There were two copies in the apartment and I saw another couple scattered about the place and so thought there would be no harm in taking one.
The Master’s Box and all the other novels by H. Manice that I saw were professionally printed but had no ISBN numbers – maybe they don’t subscribe to that system in Croatia. Anyway that suggests that they may have been self-published, atlthough on the flyleaf it says “Publisher: Galerija Stradun, For the Publisher Galerija Stradun’. It also gives the copyright date as 2000.
Other novels by H. Manice are Anna Cardea, The Flat Room, Soledad and Java Luck.
However, despite this fairly prolific output I can not find any online references to H. Manice or any of his novels. All the ones that I saw were written in English, although the books were published in Croatia.
The Master’s Box is a short novel - running to about 150 pages - and is set in the Balkans, with fairly clear descriptions of Dubrovnik, although the city is never named.
Many of the the characters were participants in the wars that broke out following the break-up of Yugoslavia, with one portrayed as a military fugitive (a sort of Ratko Mladic or Radovan Kradzic figure).
The plot is vaguely science fictionish – a psychologist who has discovered a device/formula that makes people appear or disappear, which the military character wants to get hold of to further his evil plans.
That science fiction element isn’t overplayed and the novel is more focused on the search for this device/formula as various characters form alliances, betray each other, have affairs, get captured and escape – all against the backdrop of the coast of Croatia and in and around Dubrovnik.
It wasn’t a particularly good novel, but wasn’t bad either, with the loose plot used as a launching pad for ruminations on the effects of war, betrayal, shifting loyalties. It reminded me a bit of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels, non-linear narratives, peppered with esoteric musings.
What intriques me now is not so much the novel itself as the H. Manice phenomena. The way the novels were placed around the apartment, clearly inviting residents to take one or more.
The fact that Dubrovnik and coastal Croatia featured encourages the reader to imaginatively participate in an adventure featuring landmarks that become familiar to them during their stay and the novelist H. Manice entres their psyche and becomes synonymous with the region.
That scenario I’ve just outlined reminds me slightly of a story by Jorge Luis Borges, or if not an actual story, the sort of one that he might have written.
The meta tags that I attach to this entry will ensure that google now deliveres a result for H. Manice. Maybe I’ve become caught up in the plot.