Lenka Elbe (b. 1979) was born in Louny, a historical town in the northwest of what was then Czechoslovakia. She studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Charles University. After a brief stint as a journalist, she started working as a copywriter and occasional screenwriter for television. Her fiction often combines the real and the fantastic; influenced by Franz Kafka, Umberto Eco and Haruki Murakami, Elbe explores the theme of freedom and the never-ending fight against dark currents attempting to destroy it. Besides writing, Elbe works in graphic design and photography. She lives in Prague.
THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS LITERARY AWARD (BEST FICTION DEBUT)
September 2020, 400 pages
Rights sold: Poland (Wydawnictwo Kobiece)
Available material: English sample
Englishman Henry Robotham’s girlfriend Angela disappeared in August 1968 – without a trace, as if swallowed by the Earth. She had been searching for her Czech ancestors in the ancient mining town of Jáchymov (Joachimsthal), known for its radon spa and brutal camps for political prisoners. Thirty years later, Henry heeds his therapist’s advice and visits this city of uranium in order to confront the trauma that has been weighing on his soul. His neurotic partner Suzanne accompanies him to the post-Communist Czech Republic. After a few hiccups upon arrival, Henry and Suzanne find their accommodation at Hotel Sklodowska – an establishment named after Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and now owned by Estela Hans, a charismatic and peculiar local doctor. With the couple’s arrival at the hotel, we enter a narrative experiment featuring elements of fantasy, horror and the absurd. Along with Henry we start digging into the dark past and uncovering one of the many shapes of evil. Are you tempted by immortality, too?
“Uranova is immediately enthralling. (…) Original, genre-crossing and bubbling with ideas, Lenka Elbe’s prosaic debut might remind the reader of Miloš Urban’s style. The novel’s atmosphere is captivating, the narration dynamic and full of intelligent humor…”
“This novel is a pleasantly entertaining read, though the author also serves up some elegantly wrapped serious questions along the way. (…) In the insipid stream of Czech fiction dealing with all kinds of darkness and failure, this book shines like a long-awaited piece of wilderness.”
And the language – the author seems to have conquered it completely. She writes with precision, with a slightly academic detachment, and this distance allows her to construct refined paragraphs, to put her punchy words in the right place, which further emphasizes the author’s subtle wit.
It’s as if you were reading a novel by an established British writer, intelligent and gifted with a distinguished sense of humor.
On the ground, everywhere around her, puddles of gray water. Susanne Accord was clenching the edge of the bathtub, terrified, her face twisted in a tortured grimace. A strange liquid reminiscent of molten asphalt was trickling from her mouth in dark streams. She looked like she wanted to shout something, scream, even, but that black gunk, the sheer volume, made it impossible. All she could get out were a few weak mumbling sounds. It occurred to the doctor that Suzanne would probably appreciate her saying something, offering an explanation, or at least sharing her terror. But she did not afford her client any of those things. (…) Estela dropped the jar. The keys swung on their chain and hit the side of the bathtub with a sharp crash. Susanne’s eyes were now filled with not only fear but also black tears, which started forming around her tear ducts: the strange mass had started pouring from her eyes.