The Queen’s Peacock is the story of Stanisław, a hapless pop vocalist; his harpyish, juvenile fiancées; Horse, a rock group; a music critic who has fought a losing battle of the wills with obesity and confessed as much to his television audience; Szymon Rybaczko, an ex-underground-activist-turned-media-con-artist; and also about straight-up back-stabbing, VIP rooms, and the longings of the girl behind the counter of the local bakery. In a word, as she did in Snow White and Russian Red—though now on an epic scale—Masłowska furnishes us with a parade of losers, dunces, pricks, greedy bitches, money-grubbing gurus, dimwitted cops, and wily thieves who flush their crap through wintertime Warsaw as though through a labyrinth of sewage pipes. The universe of The Queen’s Peacock is a world of fallen creatures, a house of the dead. And then there’s that lilting undercurrent of rhyme: “Our goal was to make a book for the masses, a book you could read without reading at all. For its writing was chosen an authoress, beautiful and very tall, such that this book would the reader interest and enthrall. The author’s bodily orifices are glued to the orifices in her body with Lancôme glue. Thanks to which she doesn’t menstruate, sweat, or urinate, which makes this book more interesting and easier to contemplate.” It would be an oversimplification to say that Masłowska writes about Warsaw. In the framework of a story about DJ Doris, the book’s “Masłowska”—a young writer who’s been shot down from “the top”—is hired to write a hip-hop work for some ugly young vocalist, whom the PR-savvy Szymon wants to package in order to rake in money from the part of the market that has been morally shaken by the death of the Pope, and since the pimply star had fallen in love with Stanisław from the get-go… The story’s circle closes, interlocks with the next circle, and each circle is unreal, woven from words, while “Masłowska” is a phantom of Dorota Masłowska, and the Warsaw and Poland of The Queen’s Peacock are merely dark specters of the Warsaw and Poland outside the window. And though it has taken only a few hours to read The Queen’s Peacock, this short time is sufficient to have changed us a little. Not only have we had a ball with the novel’s buffoonish parade of mental midgets. Not only have we flinched at the sheer concentration of aggressive jerkdom that emanates from these protagonists. Something else has remained. A few simple, yet unavoidable questions. How is it that people who share their lives, homes, work, and dreams manage to be so mutually unloving, to torment and steal from each other, to jostle their way to the trough with such animality? And will we, ourselves realists, having seen ourselves in the warped mirror of Masłowska’s versified novel, be able to fall asleep tonight?
“Hello, is this Dorota Masłowska I am speaking with?” “Yes, it is very much she.” On your end, then, you’ve certainly heard something of me, Szymon Rybaczko, media expert in medial matters, with a certain proposition, though I frankly haven’t read a one of your books, maybe a look at a couple of columns in Section, a real sensation, elation and frankness, splendid reading, Dostoevsky, Beckett, Musil, or even Roman Bratny, just the thing our project needs, because we’re all about the authenticity, all about the truth of time, you wouldn’t even especially have to write anything, but so it’d be from you for real, the text’s outline’s a near-done deal, at most you’ll add some rhymes that ring, for it’s a sort of hip-hop thing, I’ll explain it all, fictitious the case at hand, an ugly girl kicked around by everybody, you understand, pelted with mackerel skins by kids on the grounds, and in the background Poland ‘C,’ capitalism and hard realities, consumption in all the As&Ps, reality’s general rat race, so you know how to present this there lyrically for certain, since it should be a manifesto of truth there should be a little cursing, but not too vulgar, so as the audience not to scare, and no one in the story a cigarette-smoker, because otherwise it won’t go over, so now I think that you’re on board? I’ll tell you up front, you’ll be very well paid, with this you are sure to have most of it made, it seems that that book had popularly sold, but let’s be realistic, now you’re no longer in a famous position, no propositions, maybe because no follow-up’s written? Right, as your big break is coming next, a great opportunity not even for writing the text for us but just so you’re the one it’s coming from. You symbolize the authentic, an apartment in the projects, just the right kind to make the hip-hop stick, but say it yourself, you’re maybe not entirely pretty, and with that in life you surely haven’t had it so easy, right, so maybe a bit of autobiographism goes in, you could make use of a couple personal reflections. But then I’ll yet explain it all, because it’s just this ugly girl, there’s this affair, she and this guy, right, you know this guy, that singer, Stanisław Retro? Right, so I’ll tell you off the record and on the down-low that lately his sales have taken a blow, so you can imagine, since it’s maybe not far from your own situation, somebody’s a star, a star, and then one day wakes up to find himself not famous or nothing, from personal experience you know this, and how, surely you’re sitting at your place right now, such are the realities of media, right, so always help a friend in need, admittedly from another trade, but as I see it to save a boy is ever our moral obligation, because he’ll slash himself in the end, so that this Patricia, because you understand that hip-hopette we’re making into a star is named Patricia, sang about romance with Stan, metatextuality, two birds with one stone, and for this you’ll be very well paid, very well really, given your state, and then there’s a little addendum, that this here Stan’s a homosexual, that’s really quite crucial, because you’ll have to work that in in a fictional way, that here’s a romance with a babe, but it so happens that he’s totally disengaged, so from this there’ll be bank and you’ll manage for sure, so that’s all there is and I think you’re on board.”“I’m not really sure,” she thinks it over a moment longer. “So now you want to bargain, then? We can settle everything, I’ll put it to you honestly: I’d planned to pay you three hundred zlotys, and to be honest that’s nothing to poo-poo, but since we have so much riding on you, in this case I’ll have to pay up: I’m prepared to add another two hundred, so now I think we’re all agreed, but a few more things before we’ve signed, so can you leave your kid behind? I know how it goes, I have a kid myself, couldn’t your tot go play by itself, but leave your fear behind for now, I’ll be right over, now it’s time to pay up, North Praga? Oh, yes, I know it, those slums across the bridge, are you saying that that’s where you live? Sure, such are the ups and downs of this saga, first you’re a star, then you end up in Praga, I know how it goes. Eleven-dash-twelve, so I’ll be there before long, so for now, so long. I’m glad that we understand each other, miss.”Hey y’all, we’re screwed, looks like now she’s writing something new, oh God, we have to stop it, we won’t allow it, we don’t want it, not again, we won’t be led, give that fame to Lem instead, Miłosz is worthy, Gombrowicz is, and other authors from the provinces, all those oh-so-talented literary youth of the blogging “breed,” but no, not she, how will Europe let us in, with her we’re more likely to go Russian, dig ourselves into potato- and nettle-cultivation, so why won’t anyone say anything, ladies and gentlemen, the happy times are over, y’all, but after all you can’t just stand there, shit in hand and take your aim, leave nothing unspent, don’t save for later or repent, never mind how it will unmesh, it won’t be this, it will be fresh, one two three five eight, anyway, what does she know about hip-hop, don’t make me laugh, first she was pretending to be a track-suit ruffian, because back then those track suits were in, now she’s trying to play the hip-hop cat, we’ve had quite enough of that, have to do something about this yet, go ready set, now concentrate please, is everyone ready and don’t repent, don’t repent, it’s getting unmeshed, it will be fresh. Now, fire!
Translated from the Polish by Benjamin Paloff