M. Laszlo holds court on a vast array of quandaries and conundrums in On the Threshold, a surrealistic, metaphysical novel that raises profound questions.
The book opens in 1907 at Bonnie Castle, a Scottish estate run by Fingal T. Smyth. The vast estate hosts Fingal, as well as Doktor Pflug, famed Prussian filmmaker Herr Wunderwaffe, his young daughter Fraulein Wunderwaffe, and Jean Selwyn, an American who is part of the innovative Prussian cineaste’s coterie.
Fingal is wrestling with questions that concern the very nature of human existence. Specifically, he’s invented a device that tackles Plato’s theory of foreknowledge. Fingal’s device puts this philosophic exercise—which suggests humans are born with innate wisdom—into a practical frame, as he summons a fiery figure that represents a “projection of (the) deepest, subconscious self.”
Wreathed in flames, this figure wreaks havoc at Bonnie Castle. Fingal then invents another device to imprison the specter, but not before Herr Wunderwaffe perishes and the young girl disappears.
What follows is a push for answers that spans decades. The book shifts perspectives from the late ’20s to the late ’40s, all while probing questions of identity, psychology and human nature, framed through the budding medium of film.
Laszlo delves into abstract questions over the course of the story, which summons the tone and mood of great metafiction giants like Flann O’Brien and Samuel Beckett. As Fingal traipses around Bonnie Castle, trying to capture his alter-ego and secure the safety of a young girl who fancies herself a shapeshifter, the story is full of surreal cues from its first pages. It’s an ambitious journey offering much to sift through and consider. Casual readers looking for a straightforward story may be dissuaded by the sheer weight of the topic at hand.
However, for those willing to journey through surreal tropes, deep philosophical questions and fiction that pushes the boundaries of narrative, On the Threshold offers profound questions worth pondering.