Brief Biography

Born in Stockport, England (a nice leafy town1 near Manchester) in 1959, of Hungarian parentage. He read Modern Languages at Cambridge, and went on to work as a freelance journalist. He was for a short time the Daily Telegraph's Budapest correspondent, and he currently researches for Channel 4 programmes when not writing. His first published novel was Under the Frog in 1993, which won the Booker Prize and immediately got him categorised as one of the Best Young British Writers. At the time of writing, his last book was Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid, and was written in 2000 - as far as I know he is still writing.

Writing Style

The first thing that strikes you about Tibor's works is that, well, they're weird. Bank-robbing philosophers. Sentient ornaments. Book-crunchers. And so on. Then, that he's funny. Very funny. It's a surreal kind of humour, coming from oddity, and irony, and from nowhere obvious, but oozing out of every sentence. I can imagine no one else having the ability to make you smile whenever a word begins with the letter Z, but this is a power he has.

Then, you notice that he can actually write. He has true control over the language, and a stunningly eclectic active vocabulary. According to his wishes, he can aim his words to stun, to incapacitate with laughter, to outrage, or to reduce to tears. And, he has the most amazing ideas. His books aren't of the conventional plotty kind. They work more as a string of instances of genius, concepts and conceits that could easily work without the structure of the story, but which with it form a coherent and powerful whole. Funny, and sublime.

The Books

Under the Frog, 1993 - a story based partially on his father's experiences in Soviet Hungary, which follows a baseball team on a Catch-22-like journey through the tragic comedy of life under the regime. The title comes from a Hungarian phrase that translates as "under the frog's arse down a coal mine", meaning being in the worst situation possible. It's humanity versus history, and manages to be persuasive without being in your face argumentative. And it includes a great account of the October Revolution.

The Thought Gang, 1994 - about a down-and-out philosopher who flees Britain to wind up robbing banks in France. Features some brilliant characters, extensive use of the little-known backslang (e.g. yennom for money, zeb for best), lots of little known Greek words (culled, he tells us, from the pages of Liddell and Scott's famous Greek Lexicon), more words beginning with Z than you ever knew existed (personal favourite, also a greek word - zetetic : seeking knowledge, as in "let's get zet!"), and the phrase "OK, let's do this one in a Descartes style" when referring to a bank-robbery. Rambling, often incoherent, possibly existential, definitely genius. Oolong points out that The Thought Gang is currently being made into a film

The Collector Collector - one of the very few novels to be narrated by an inanimate object. A vase, to be exact, with a prodigious knowledge of the kind of ancient history they don't tell you at school, and deep insights into the secret meanings of earrings. Perhaps his most purely entertaining book, full of the pointless fluff that is humanity. It's about sex, and people, and money, and everything, and nothing. And it's short enough to read in one ecstatic day.

Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid, 2000 - a title toned down to I Like Being Killed for the US audience - presumably on the assumption that they have no concept of irony (though an even less fair interpretation is possible). A collection of short stories, ranging from 50 Uselessnesses - a quite tragic story of a suicidal gun-slinger wannabe - to my personal favourite Bookcruncher - about someone who decided to read every book ever written, and who hides in libraries after closing to do so. Each one a pearl, though do pay attention to the title as they do, if taken literally, encourage murder, serial mendacity, racism, and all sorts of bad things. But if you have at least a trace of a sense of irony, this is a good way to exercise it.

1Well, kind of. Ish.

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