The story takes place in the basement of Bruno Schulz, a deceased author, most famous for his two collections of short fiction released before his murder by a Gestapo officer in 1942. Maxim Biller follows the surfaces and depths of Bruno’s mind. There is a cross between real and subconscious thought. In many parts of the story, the plot blends Schulz’s mental illusions.
Bruno is progressively writing a letter to Herr Thomas Mann, a writer whom Bruno admires. It is the year 1983 and Bruno believes he has overheard a meeting between an imposter pretending to be Thomas Mann, who he assumes to be a Nazi spy for the government. Bruno decides to warn Thomas Mann of this imposter, which attempt takes up the length of the story.
The setting is dark and unnerving. The basement, located in Drohobycz, Poland, where Schulz writes is damp and he is consistently reminded of events from his past because he is surrounded by memorabilia such as his father’s chair. As a result, Bruno oscillates between the present, past, and fantasy, which each seem to manifest with every passing thought. Biller paints Bruno as an artist who is slowly losing his mind from the fear and anxiety of the unknown. Bruno is alone, but is constantly surrounded by “creatures in his day dreams” that he creates within the depths of his mind, which drive him crazy. The mental state of Bruno is consistently being questioned as the story progresses further. Bruno has an obscene obsession with his face and the faces of others. The face is used innumerably throughout the work as a representation of the emotional state, as well as the character’s state of being.
In the opening of the story, Bruno is described as a “small, thin, serious man” (Biller, 9). The descriptions of Bruno presented in the story paint him as helpless and stationary in regards to his current situation and mental state. Bruno holds his head and hides from the noises that he hears in an attempt to clear his mind. However, he always seems to find another fantasy to conjure up. The world of Bruno seems unbearable to live in. It is difficult to read this story without drawing conclusions about the mental state of Bruno. Conversely, a critique of the previous statement might add that Biller may be trying to capture the crazy artist prototype. However, the plot deviates from the usual structure of stories that are based on this same prototype. The length of the story focuses mainly on fantasy and the reality that Bruno experiences, which leaves the reader questioning how to interpret the meaning of the story. Ultimately, Bruno finishes his letter to Mann, but ends up crawling naked to the center of town by the end. How does one draw conclusions on such an ending?
In summary, Biller pushes the reader to analyze the mind of Bruno, which is a difficult task. This task is made more difficult when Bruno is unsure of his own reality. The mixture of fantasy and reality in this story is brilliant and the flow of thought stands out. Bruno’s character is enticing and the ending of the story grew more mysterious with the progression of Bruno’s character. Fantastical. Complex. Compelling. And well worth reading.
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz