Category: Switzerland Page 1 of 2

Peter Stamm: Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt (The Sweet Indifference of the World)

The latest addition to my website is Peter Stamm‘s Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt (The Sweet Indifference of the World). The novel tells the story of a former writer, Chris, who meets an actress called Magdalena while in Stockholm, whose life seemingly mirrors his own life and that of his ex-girlfriend, also an actress called Magdalena. Not only does the new Magdalena have a boyfriend called Chris who is writing a novel, as he recounts his story to her both find a lot in common, far too much to be coincidence. Indeed, even while they are meeting regularly while she is in Stockholm with her Chris, who is busy most of the day, her life takes a turn which mirrors what happened to Chris and Magdalena 1. Is it coincidence, planned or just nonsense? Stamm leaves us in suspense as we follow the two stories simultaneously and gives us enough clues for different interpretations of what really happened – if it really did happen.

Patrick Boltshauser: Stromschnellen (Rapids)

The latest addition to my website is Patrick Boltshauser‘s . This book is so far the only one to appear in Dalkey Archive Press’s Liechtensteinian Literature Series, though the author was born in Switzerland and currently lives in Switzerland, but he did grow up in Liechtenstein. It tells the story of an unnamed narrator, a zoology student at the university of Bern, like the author, and his lack of focus and direction and, in particular, his troubles with the opposite sex. He has various girlfriends, all of whom seem to have other boyfriends, to his chagrin, and all of whom, like him seem to make something of a mess of their lives. He ends up dropping out but has learned nothing and is still chasing after a woman who is not too interested in him.

Erhard von Büren: Ein langer blauer Montag (A Long Blue Monday)

The latest addition to my website is Erhard von Büren‘s Ein langer blauer Montag (A Long Blue Monday). This is the third novel von Büren has written and I have read of his and it is another excellent work. The story is narrated by Paul Ganter, a young Swiss man from the wrong side of the tracks, who falls for Claudia, very much from the right side of the tracks, while they are performing in a local play, and after his tentative attempts at wooing her seem to lead nowhere, he decides to write a trilogy of plays, influenced by Tennessee Williams, and essentially autobiographical, with the hope that that will influence her. The story is told forty years later and we know he has not married her (he is married to someone else) but he still has his doubts about himself and life.

Robert Walser: Der Spaziergang (The Walk)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Der Spaziergang (The Walk). This simply tells the story of a writer out for a walk in a provincial Swiss town. However, as the writer is based on Walser, he is not averse to giving his opinion on all and sundry, 1000 lashes for those cutting down trees, a particularly rude letter to an unknown recipient for an unknown reason, a verbal assault on the unfortunate tailor who has not made his new suit properly and even a complaint to his hostess, Frau Aebi, that she is feeding him too much. He can be complimentary – a woman passerby is told she should be an actress, a woman singing that she should be an opera singer – and can also enjoy the beauties of the walk but still thinks, when he sees children, that Age one day will terrify and bridle them. Another witty and very colourful work from Walser.

Robert Walser: Der Gehülfe (The Assistant)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Der Gehülfe (The Assistant). This is the second book published by Walser (the third he wrote) and is based on his own experiences. The story involves Joseph Marti, a self-critical, somewhat absent-minded young man, who goes to work for Carl Tobler, an inventor. He lives in the house with Tobler, his wife and four children. Tobler has several inventions, such as the Advertising Clock but, unfortunately for him, no-one seems interested either in investing in them or buying them. He gradually runs up debts, which he declines to pay, leaving Joseph spending at least part of his job fending off debt collectors. Joseph, meanwhile, drifts through life and his job, unpaid but often unconcerned. It is enjoyable book though not Walser’s best.

Robert Walser: Geschwister Tanner (The Tanners)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Geschwister Tanner (The Tanners). This was Walser’s first novel and a strange one it is, clearly based on himself and his family. The main character is Simon Tanner, a young man who drifts around from job to job, from town to town, from relationship to to relationship, unsure of where he fits in but not too concerned about it either. Like Walser, he likes long walks, the joys of nature and writing. His eldest brother is concerned about his siblings, but one brother (whom we never meet) has been institutionalised, the other brother, a painter, is almost as out of touch with reality as Simon and their sister, Hedwig, feels there is a thin wall between her and the real world. The novel, like the characters, is rambling but an interesting first novel all the same.

Robert Walser: Jakob von Gunten (Jakob von Gunten)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Jakob von Gunten (Jakob von Gunten). This was an unusual novel for the time, as it is told inside the head of the protagonist, a young man who fantasises, has strange dreams, is full of contradictions and may be an unreliable narrator. Like Walser himself, Jakob leaves his well-to-do family and enrols (at his own expense) in a school that is concerned with educating future servants. Jakob does not really fit in, clashing with the headmaster, quarrelling with the faithful knight, Kraus, a fellow student who is much more obedient than Jakob and is nominally his best friend, and wondering what is going on as the teachers do not teach and the instruction that we enjoy consists mainly in impressing patience and obedience upon ourselves. Jakob rebels and adapts as well, accepting at times his own worthlessness but then challenging it. The novel was clearly ahead of its time, as Walser’s reputation only really came after his death.

Erhard von Büren: Wespenzeit (Wasp Days)

wasp

The latest addition to my website is Erhard von Büren‘s Wespenzeit (Wasp Days). This is the second novel I have read by this Swiss author and I must say that I enjoyed it more than his first one. Like that novel, this is the story of an ordinary man, in this case a municipal librarian in a small Swiss town. It is summer. His wife and two daughters are away on holiday and he is standing in for his boss, so cannot accompany his family. Instead of doing the extra work needed, he spends his time daydreaming, primarily about his past life. His past life includes his various romances – he examines each one in detail – but also his time in Paris, with pregnant wife, daughter and mistress and his learned Swiss friends, fellow sociology students. Sex is a key part but by no means the only part, as he skilfully, wittily and at times cynically dissects his own life and the life of those around him. It is very well done, telling of a fairly ordinary life with great humour, careful observation and at times considerable self-knowledge. Fortunately, the book has been translated into English and should appear late next month (August).

Erhard von Büren: Abdankung. Ein Bericht (Epitaph for a Working Man)

epitaph

The latest addition to my website is Erhard von Büren‘s Abdankung. Ein Bericht (Epitaph for a Working Man). Von Büren wrote this, his first novel, when he was nearly fifty. It is the affectionate portrait of an ordinary, hard-working Swiss stonemason, in the last year of his life. Alois Haller has worked all his life. He is now living in an old people’s home but is determined to carry on working and carry on in his independent ways. When he get a growth on his back, the local doctor removes it but does not have it checked. When it reappears and he has to go to hospital, it is soon realised that it is cancerous. We follow the development of his illness and his treatment, up to his death, about which we learn from the very beginning of the book. All the while, Alois remains fiercely independent, fiercely critical of the doctors and the home and determined to carry on working and being his own man, which includes drinking and smoking. Much of this we see through the eyes of his son, who is quite different from his father. He is an out-of-work typesetter, who is married to Sophie (they have no children). She is having an affair with her boss and her husband is well aware of this and seemingly not too bothered about it. Indeed, he does not seem bothered about anything, half-heartedly looking (unsuccessfully) for work. Von Büren clearly has a strong feeling for Alois Haller, an ordinary but very independent man.

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz: Farinet ou la fausse monnaie [Farinet or the Forged Money]

farinet

The latest addition to my website is Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz‘s Farinet ou la fausse monnaie [Farinet or the Forged Money]. Maurice Farinet, when young, befriended an old man, Sage, who had found a vein of gold in the mountains. When he died, it became Farinet’s. He uses the gold to make twenty franc coins. Given that his coins are of better quality, in terms of gold content, than those made by the government, he cannot think that anyone can object. Indeed, the locals are happy to have his coins. The government takes a different view and, at the beginning of the novel, we see him escaping from prison for a second time. The police, who are not local, are unable to find him, as he is aided by the locals and has a very secret hiding place in the mountains. In particular, he is aided by Josephine, the waitress at the café who helped him after his first escape. It was Josephine who smuggled in the file and rope he used to escape the second time and it is she who brings him food. However, as one of the old men remarks, she is likely to be trouble. Farinet comes to recognise that he cannot continue as an outlaw forever, not least because hiding out in the mountains during the harsh winter may be difficult. When a local councillor brings him an offer from the government – to turn himself in, give up forgery and serve just six months in prison, during the winter months – he rejects it initially but then strongly considers it. Josephine, however, may have other ideas. Ramuz, as always, tells an excellent story of the independence of the mountain man and his struggle with what freedom means and what responsibilities it brings.

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