Given my bah humbug attitude, readers are unlikely to have expected a Christmas read from me but I couldn’t resist a literary trip to the snow-covered German landscape with Urs Faes’ Twelve Nights, set not far from the Black Forest. Beginning just before Christmas, Faes’ brief novella tells the story of Manfred who’s returned home after forty years, hoping to make peace with his estranged younger brother.
Familiarity drifted towards him like an old melody, as though something that had been missing all these years had suddenly returned
Manfred walks through the snow to the inn which overlooks the family farm Sebastian has run for decades. It’s the first time he’s returned to the valley he roamed with his brother and beloved Minna as children, despite the deaths of both parents and of Minna herself. This is the time of the year his mother surrounded their home with talismans, burning herbs to protect them from the dark forces believed to make mischief between the feast of St Thomas and Epiphany, beliefs it seems some locals still hold if the curmudgeonly Lutz, who frequents the inn’s bar, is anything to go by. Eager for news of his brother but wary of making the first move, Manfred chats to the landlord learning that Sebastian is a virtual recluse, the only sign of life from the farm the smoke from his chimney. Manfred’s head fills with memories and questions as the twelve nights wear on and snow continues to fall.
He had loved this land, even though after so many years it had become just a memory, and the autumn days in particular, when the harvest drew near and the orchard fruits, Boskop and Jonagold apples, glistened, the vines on the hillsides full to bursting and the chestnuts’ branches heavy with burrs
At just over ninety pages, this pleasingly atmospheric read is more of a short story than a novella. Faes unfolds his tale of fraternal feud through Manfred’s memories, embroidered with colourful legend and full of my hoped-for descriptions of the German landscape punctuated with the occasional cosy inn scene. It’s an enjoyable tale, best read curled up by a fireside. Possible stocking filler material for anyone who likes a spot of forgiveness and redemption on the horizon, too.
This is likely to be my last review for 2020, a suitably wintery note to end on. The rest of the year will be all about looking backwards then forwards with books of my year starting on Monday followed by January’s bookish goodies to look out for leading up to Christmas.
Harvill Secker: London 9781787301962 96 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)