My preferred reading matter by and large comprises books written by women, written in the past and written in English but two of my stand out books of the last year have been Peirene titles – both written by men, contemporary, and originally written in German. I’m truly grateful to Peirene for sending me both ‘Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman’ and ‘Next World Novella’ neither book would have crossed my path otherwise. For all the abundance of books out there it seems to me to be harder than ever to find something different – the choice in my local chain bookshop is disappointing to say the least and we don’t have an independent locally (that I know of, but I have dreams that one will reveal itself). Amazon has the range but unless you know what you’re looking for, or looking for more of the same finding things is tricky.
Thank heaven then for blogs and publishers who are inclined to flirt with them; it’s one good way to broaden my reading horizons – and with them horizons generally. ‘Next World Novella’ is an unsettling read (which seems to fit with the times); Hinrich and Doro have been married for 30 years seemingly happy until one morning Hinrich wakes late to find his wife has died in the night at her desk. What follows turns his perceptions on their head. Doro’s last act was editing an old manuscript of Hinrich’s, in an attempt to make sense of this unexpected loss he starts to read her commentary – with mounting discomfort he realises that his contented marriage was no such thing.
Slowly over the course of the day that Hinrich spends with Doro’s corpse some sort of truth about his failings and her intentions are revealed, Hinrich also finds that:
"Being dead, he thought, means first and foremost that you can’t apologize, can’t forgive and be reconciled, there’s nothing left to be forgiven, only to be forgotten. Or rather there’s nothing to be forgotten, only forgiven.”It’s a frustrating situation, sudden death leaves so much to be explained, understood, and of course forgiven. Hinrich is left with his frustrations and only a fly to take them out on and in such a situation it seems you eventually have to be honest and face the truth about yourself.
It’s a hard book to describe, and being a short one far too easy to reveal too much plot (not that I mind spoilers but as so much of this book is a slow exposure of the inside of a marriage it seems wrong to give away to much). I will say that the end turns everything upside down again – I’m not quite sure what happens – it might be a dream, or what went before may have been the dream, or it may be that this is what might have been – or frankly it could have been something else entirely but whatever it is it feels hopeful and poignant at the same time.
There is a trailer here which is worth watching and if you come across this book please read it – it’s only short and time spent on it is time very well spent. Peirene have deservedly just won the new comer of the year award from the independent publishers guild, I hope they come by a whole lot more awards and a lot more recognition. I hope also to be able to pick up their titles on the high street someday soon (and that they might take their literary salons on the road and into the provinces).