A metafictional novel about a novel.
The nail merchant has given up his dull, honorable trade. He suffers from some sort of nasty torpid anxiety, full of golden birds. He finds his heart, leathery and feeble, in the linen closet, where his wife has hidden it for safekeeping. Defying her warnings, he puts it back in his bosom. Meanwhile the nail merchant and his dog are being haunted by some invisible Egyptians. He moves into three or four simultaneous sets of episodes: leaving his heart under the bed of a lovely friend; taking dictation from an Egyptian named Sinuhe and bribing a hypocritical wildcat to teach him witchcraft.
A Nail Merchant at Nightfall is a metafictional novel, thought to tell the autobiographical story of Mika Waltari completing his magnum opus, The Egyptian. Depicting the different and often conflicting sides of the creative process, the novel follows the writer during the summer he decides to leave his heart in a drawer and head off to his summer cottage in order to fully concentrate on his writing. But things don’t go according to plan and the writer ends up using his summer away from civilisation to misbehave, indulging in drinking, entering into an ill-advised affair, and experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Written in the first person, the novel follows the story of a writer who goes off the rails, makes a mess of his life, and ends up being rescued by the woman whom he previously took for granted.
Mika Waltari (1908-1979) is the most popular 20th century Finnish writer who is best known for his magnus opus The Egyptian. Over a career that spanned five decades, Waltari published well over 100 works, of which 200 translations have been made. His works include at least 30 novels, 20 plays and 15 novellas, as well as short stories, poems, screenplays and essays. In 1957 he was appointed to the Academy of Finland, having previously won the state literature award five times. Waltari’s works have been translated into over 40 languages.
Czech (Vyšehrad 1976/Hejkal 2014)*
Dutch (Van Holkema & Waerendorf 1955)
English (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1954)*
Estonian (Loomingu 1996/Varrak 2022)
German (Paul Neff 1955/Lübbe 1978)
Lithuanian (Tyto Alba 2003)*
Polish (Panstwowy 1981 / C&T 1994)
Slovakian (Hevi 1994)
Spanish (Plaza & Janés 1962, Ediciones GP, 1967)
* rights reverted
“A tour de force which may, just possibly, capture the fancy of those looking for something in the vein of allegory, fantasy. With plenty of tongue in cheek, the author of The Egyptian takes his readers into the mind of the creative artist, which is plagued by creatures demanding birth, side-tracked by the erratic behaviour of his own heart, mind and emotions. He sees himself as a materialist, a nail merchant, who has decided to retire, but whose neglected heart returns to plague him and whose imagination haunts him with the figures of the unborn, in this particular of an aging Egyptian, Sinuhe. He leaves his heart with a beautiful friend and goes off with his dog to the lakeside to bring his Egyptians to life. The fourth sunset finds him accepting defeat, the impermanence of love, the importance of good food, a good wife, a good bed and a good book. There are bits of poetic writing here. But the appeal is special.” – Kirkus Review
“An involved little allegory in which the temptations of the flesh and the pains of authorship are almost thoroughly obscured by a series of symbolic vignettes.” – Martin Levin, The Saturday Review