Monday, May 1, 2017

Twilight and Moonbeam Alley - Stefan Zweig

I'm back from holiday, the soundtrack of the day has mostly been the washing machine doing its thing, and it's back to work with a daunting list of things to be done in May. I managed to finish one book whilst I was away, bought about 6, and am wondering why I packed 3 (which felt like self restraint at the time) in the first place...

Meanwhile one of Mays jobs is to catch up with the books I read before I went away, including this little one from Pushkin Press. I bought it a very long time ago, mostly because it's a beautiful object, it was the first Zweig I tried, and for well over a decade it was why I didn't try another one.

I'm not sure/ can't remember what my initial expectations where, but for whatever reason when I first tried to read it 'Twilight' didn't grab me. I put it down unfinished and basically ignored Zweig until I came across 'Beware of Pity'. Very much my loss. I made the effort with this one again after 'The Invisible Collection' with much more success, (though I'll admit neither story came close to 'The Invisible Collection' for me personally) and a stronger than ever determination to read more Zweig.

'Twilight' is the longer novella, it tells the story (based on fact) of Madame De Prie. More specifically the moment she falls from grace. My knowledge of French history is limited, so I hadn't heard of her before, but it seems that for a short while at least she was an extraordinarily powerful figure in the French court. When she fell, she fall hard, banished to her country estate she committed suicide a year later. A very short Wikipedia entry is testament to how brief a footnote she ended up being in history.

It's a desperately sad vision of a woman trying and failing to hang on to the life she loved, the attention and influence she craved, and utterly failing. Zweig's compassion for his subject along with his merciless refusal to allow her suicide any impact on her former friends is undoubtedly a powerful combination but there's a hopelessness about it that makes me understand why I didn't finish it first time around.

Moonbeam Alley deals with the same underlying theme of human desperation, but the end is more ambiguous and corrospondingly easier to read - even if it doesn't have quite the same emotional impact. The main thing I'm taking away though is that this is a writer who I should pay far more attention to (I need to read, not just buy, the books). It's going to be a rewarding journey.

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