Tag Archives: Where Love Begins

Where Love Begins by Judith Hermann (transl. Margot Bettauer Dembo): A comfortable life made uncomfortable

Cover imageIn the very early days of this blog I reviewed Judith Hermann’s beautifully put together set of interlinked short stories, Alice, under the banner ‘Small but Perfectly Formed’. The same heading could stand for her new novel, Where Love Begins, although its subject matter is quite different. Alice explored grief and how we endure it, both from the point of view of the bereft and those around them who perform small acts of kindness yet feel impotent in their efforts to soften this hardest of blows. This new, equally accomplished novel takes a more sinister route with its portrayal of Stella whose unremarkable life is turned upside down by a stalker.

Thirty-seven years old, Stella is married to Jason who she met on the plane she caught home from her best friend Clara’s wedding after catching the bridal bouquet. They live a prosaic enough life on a housing development in a small German town. Stella is a nurse, making home visits to the sick and elderly some of whom are grateful, others not so much, while Jason’s work often takes him away. Their five-year-old daughter, Ava, happily attends the local kindergarten. Stella misses Clara, looking forward to her letters and remembering their heady days sharing a flat together. She thinks about her marriage and how she met Jason who took her hand, calming her fears as the plane took off. One day the doorbell rings and Stella finds herself reluctant to answer it using the intercom instead. The man outside says he just wants to talk to her but Stella tells him to go away. So begins the almost daily visits from Mr Pfister who drops perplexing things into her mail box – a ball of twine, a home burnt CD, an empty yellow envelope.

In other hands this might have been just another somewhat clichéd thriller – a woman stalked by disturbed man with perhaps a horrible finale thrown in – but Hermann’s novel is much more complex than that. In her coolly elegant, quietly contemplative style she explores an ordinary life with all its discontents, small regrets and difficulties suddenly unsettled by the unwanted attentions of a stranger. What suspense there is low-key – disquieting rather than nail-biting and all the more effective for it. Hermann writes in that understated way that I find so impressive occasionally punctuated by vivid images: ‘A flock of sparrows flies up out of the trees in the garden across the way, as if hurled into the sky by a large hand’; in summer ‘the warm air enters the house like a guest’. The intimate almost tender exchanges between the carer and the cared for are delicately described, like an artist’s sketches, and Ava’s prattle is beautifully caught. All this is, of course, sensitively translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo whose work on Alice I so admired. Altogether a very fine piece of work. Time to explore Hermann’s backlist, I think.

Books to Look Out For in March 2016

Cover imageHope springs eternal as we edge towards the beginning of spring in the UK. With winter a bit of a non-event for half of the country, I’m wondering if we’ll notice its arrival at all. Plenty to keep you occupied indoors if it turns out to be another washout, though. It’s an all female line-up for March. Two of my choices are by writers whose books I’ve already read and enjoyed and three are new to me. I’ll begin with the one I’m most looking forward to, Elizabeth Hay’s His Whole Life. Late Nights on Air is one of those quietly beautiful books that I’d loved to have seen piled up on bookshop tables. Alone in the Classroom didn’t quite match it for me but I have hopes for this one which follows a young boy over the few years which will shape his adult life. It’s described by the publishers as ‘an unconventional coming of age story as only Elizabeth Hay could tell it. It draws readers in with its warmth, wisdom, its vivid sense of place, its searching honesty, and nuanced portrait of the lives of one family and those closest to it’ listing many of the qualities I admired in Late Nights on Air.

Way back in my early blogging days I posted a review of Judith Hermann’s Alice, a lovely, gentle novella, beautifully written. Her new one, Where Love Begins, sounds very different. Stella leads a prosaically happy life. Because her husband travels for work, she and her daughter are often alone in the house. One day, a stranger knocks on her door and asks to come in saying he only wants to talk to her. She sends him away but he persists day after day, undeterred when she tries to confront him. Described by the publishers as ‘a delicately wrought, deeply sinister novel’ it sounds riveting.Cover image

Of the three novels I’ve not yet read, Anna Raverat’s Lover sounds the most enticing to me. Kate’s marriage begins to unravel when she discovers her husband’s dalliance with another woman. Work offers no comfort as her boss becomes increasingly demanding. Amidst this turmoil, Kate’s priority is to protect her daughters but her life is in tatters. ‘Told with warmth and lightness, even as it also mines real depths of sorrow, Lover is a novel about the hand that life can deal you, and how to play it with grace. Beautifully observed, full of wisdom, poetry and humour, it asks what it means to be true in all things, and in so doing, how to live’ say the publishers, which makes it sound like a nice piece of intelligent, absorbing fiction.

I still haven’t got around to reading Deborah Levy’s Man Booker shortlisted Swimming Home, much rated for its writing, I gather. Her new novel, Hot Milk, ‘explores the violently primal bond between mother and daughter’ according to its publishers. It’s set in Spain where the daughter has taken her mother to an alternative clinic in the hope of discovering a cure for her paralysis, which may or may not be psychologically induced. While her mother undergoes a series of odd treatments, the daughter becomes caught up in ‘the seductive mercurial games of those around her’. That synopsis isn’t entirely up my street but Levy has been praised by so many people whose opinions I trust that its seems worth investigating.

Cover imageOttessa Moshfegh’s Eileen had already caught my eye then I read a review by Naomi over at Consumed by Ink – it was published in Canada a little while ago. The eponymous Eileen is a disturbed young woman caring for her alcoholic father and working as a secretary in a boys’ prison. She passes her dull days fantasising about escape and her nights and weekends shoplifting and stalking one of the prison guards. The arrival of an attractive counsellor sparks what Eileen thinks is a friendship but proves to be her undoing in what the publishers call a ‘Hitchcockian twist’. Naomi describes the novel as ‘delightfully morbid’, a book she couldn’t put down, which is more than enough to persuade me. Great jacket, too!

That’s it for March hardbacks. As ever if you want to know more, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis or, in the case of Eileen, Naomi’s review. Paperbacks shortly…