Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Game of Chess and Other stories - Stefan Zweig

I'd dearly love to be able to take a month off work to enjoy autumn as it turns into winter, read a pile of the books that have already waited too long for some attention, and bake. It's not on the cards. Zweig is the kind of writer that really makes me wish it was otherwise though. It's not so much that I get so absorbed in his stories that I struggle to put them down, although there's an element of that, it's the threads of thought he unravels and I desperately want to follow through other books, but don't have the time to.

This collection is published by Alma Classics and includes 'The Invisible Collection' (brilliant), the novella length 'Twenty Four Hours in a Woman's Life', which explores infatuation and addiction, 'Incident on Lake Geneva' which specifically addresses the pointlessness of war, and 'A Game of Chess', Zweig's last story - written whilst in exile in Brazil.

'Twenty Four Hours in a Woman's Life' is set pre World War One. In a hotel on the Riviera a group of guests fall into argument over an unfolding scandal; a previously respectable married woman has run off with a young man she's had but a couple of conversations with. Partly to play devils advocate our narrator defends her, which leads a fellow guest to confide a story from her past to him.

As a middle aged widow she tried to help a young gambler, the situation quickly spirals out of her control, and she finds herself behaving in ways she scarcely understands, and which will characterise how she sees herself - at least until this confession. It's got Zweig's trademark pathos and compassion running all through it.

'A Game of Chess' by comparison is full of anger barely contained by Zweig's elegance of style, there is nothing to soften the story as it unfolds (as there is in The Invisible Collection) just a stark portrayal of how effectively cruel fascism is.

Altogether this is an excellent place to start if your unfamiliar with Zweig - the stories are a good cross section (I'm saying that with all the authority of someone who has read one novel and 4 other stories before this) and it's a very reasonably priced edition (rrp £4.99), and a nicely judged collection if you don't already have the stories elsewhere. The more I read Zweig, the more I like him.


  1. I don’t know Zweig so I can’t say if I would feel the same way about his work as you do, but I do know that feeling of wanting to be able to read through an author’s books in order to follow what seems to be a developing and central line of thought. I am retired and so in theory ought to be able to do that, but in practice like so many being retired doesn’t seem to mean more reading time and if I were to prioritise one author then how would I get round to all those I had neglected in the process? I think it’s called being caught between a rock and a hard place!

  2. Indeed! With Zweig it’s not just that I want to read more of him, but also the different perspectives and directions he opens up. He’s a writer who makes me uneasily aware that I haven’t read much European literature at all, and that by not doing so there are things I’m missing.