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review 2016-11-01 11:00
When a Woman Loves a Man: The Jib Door by Marlen Haushofer
The Jib Door - Marlen Haushofer
Die Tapetentür - Marlen Haushofer

It’s a well-known truth that love has the potential to make blind for anything unpleasant involved and at all times writers gladly took up the theme to dwell on the tangle and the suffering that results from it. In the history of literature there are scores of novels – all-time classics and probably many more forgotten ones – surrounding ill-matched couples whose relationships are doomed from the start however much they try to bridge the factual, emotional, social or psychological divide. The Jib Door by Marlen Haushofer is an impressive, though often overlooked example of an Austrian novel dealing with passionate love leading into a marriage that is based on the desperate longing to escape loneliness in a “normal” life with a husband and self-denial. First published in 1957, the primarily male critics of the time showed all but enthusiasm for the book because they had neither an interest in nor an understanding for what might be called the female condition in a patriarchal society.


The Jib Door is a short novel set in Vienna of the late 1950s that covers a period of only twelve months in the life of thirty-year-old Annette. To tell her story the author skilfully alternates third-person narrative focussing on the protagonist and diary entries that allow a more personal look into her soul. Above all the latter show Annette as a very intelligent and well-read young woman (she likes Kant and Schopenhauer) who despite all contents herself with an unchallenging job as a librarian. From the beginning the novel’s tone is melancholic which corresponds perfectly with her sad past and dull present. Of her family there’s nobody left but her much adored uncle Eugen who raised her together with his rather rigid late wife Johanna. Her mother died when she was two years old and her father, who couldn’t cope with the situation, fled to South America some time later. For years she has been living on her own in her little Viennese apartment enjoying her independence and even being alone. She has many friends with whom she meets regularly and in her adult life she already had several love affairs, but they all ended in boredom and disappointment. Her current relationship is no exception and when her lover leaves her for a job in Paris, she feels relief rather than regret. Then one day she receives a letter from the solicitor Gregor Xanthner because her father has died and she needs to sign papers. To her he seems the paragon of health and happiness, and yet, she doesn’t feel attracted to him at first. However, the more Annette sees of him, the more she falls for him although her friends can’t stand him and she knows that he’ll inevitably hurt her. Annette becomes Gregor’s lover and when she gets pregnant, she gives up her job, her apartment, her independence to marry him and share his life. But he isn’t interested in her as a person and Annette feels increasingly lonely. Moreover, she knows that he betrays her with others when he doesn’t come home for dinner at night. She still clings to him hiding her knowledge and all the while her belly is growing rounder and rounder…


In this second novel of hers – that like her other works gives the impression of being at least partly autobiographical – the author paints a very sensitive, psychologically deep and impressive portrait of a young woman in post-war Vienna who longs for love and slides eyes wide open into a relationship that brings her despair and pain instead. Consequently, the protagonist’s pointed reflections on men and love turn out to be rather resigned and gloomy. The Jib Door by Marlen Haushofer definitely isn’t a cheerful book, but thanks to its simple and unpretentious language it was despite all a mere treat to read. And it deserves a much wider audience.


The Jib Door - Marlen Haushofer 


This Austrian writer’s best remembered and most acclaimed work to this day is a rather impressive dystopian novel that she wrote in the early 1960s. It’s titled The Wall and in June 2014 I reviewed it here on Edith’s Miscellany .

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review 2016-05-07 11:00
A Hell of a Childhood: Beautiful Days by Franz Innerhofer
Beautiful days: A novel - Franz Innerhofer
Schöne Tage - Franz Innerhofer

This important work of Austrian literature has first been published in 1974 and is on many school reading lists in Germany, Austria and Switzerland today. The English translation, however, seems to have seen only one edition before going out of print again – unlike its French and Spansh translations.


The story basically is the fictionalised account of the author's own horrible childhood on a mountain farm in the Alpine regions of Salzburg during the 1950s. In shocking detail he evokes his love-less, even cruel biological father, who took him into house and family much rather as a free farm hand than as his son. His has to work hard for his living and he is only allowed to go to school when it suits the father or the teacher starts pestering. Beatings and abuse are an almost daily occurence and weigh terribly on the sensitive as well as intelligent boy who as he grows older begins to consider suicide as an acceptable way out. But then he turns into a teenager. Seeing that is stronger than his father he forces open his way into a better life.


If you'd like to learn more about this sad and shattering book that is definitely worth reading, be invited to click here to read my long review on Edith's Miscellany.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2016-03-19 11:00
Beware of Dreams Come True: Women as Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek
Women As Lovers - Martin Chalmers,Elfriede Jelinek
Die Liebhaberinnen - Elfriede Jelinek

This novel by the so far only Austrian Nobelist in Literature - Elfriede Jelinek - is from the 1970s, thus an early work of the author who is better known today as a playwright and a rather  controversial one that is.


Women as Lovers is a rather disillusioned story about two young women or actually girls called Brigitte and Paula who have grown up in miserable circumstances in Vienna and in a small village somewhere in the countryside respectively. They both believe that Mr. Right will be their ticket to happiness and so they do everything in their power to catch him. But then they find that reality isn't at all the way they expected.


For the full review please click here to go to my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.


Women As Lovers - Elfriede Jelinek,Martin Chalmers 

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2016-02-04 11:00
Confession of an Infatuation: Letter from an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig
Letter from an Unknown Woman - Stefan Zweig
Brief einer Unbekannten und andere Meistererzählungen - Stefan Zweig

In his time Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was one of the most famous and most successful German-language writers, but when – despairing at the political situation in his country of origin (he was Austrian of Jewish descent) – he took his own life in Brazilian exile, he knew that he was a relic of The World of Yesterday as he had perpetuated it in his autobiography. The works of the prolific author are classics of literature today and many of them have never gone out of print here in the German-speaking world, but their English translations seem to have fallen into oblivion to be rediscovered only recently. The novella that I’m reviewing today counts among Stefan Zweig’s most important and superb ones. It’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (Brief einer Unbekannten) first published in 1922 and adapted for the screen several times, e.g. one from 1948 directed by Max Ophüls.


It’s 1918 and a flu pandemic ravages in Europe killing tens of thousands of people. Upon his return to Vienna after three days of rest in the Austrian mountains, the renowned novelist just referred to as R. finds in his mail an envelope containing two dozen pages in a lady’s hand without name or address of the sender. From this letter he learns for the first time that he had a son and that he just died. The mourning mother, who is sick herself and just waiting for death to reunite her with the deceased boy, reveals to the self-centred and philandering novelist the story of her long infatuation for him and of her life. She first knew him at the age of thirteen when he moved into the house where she lived with her widowed mother in the apartment opposite his. For her it was love at first sight, but she didn’t only fall for the bachelor’s good looks and his charms. His refined and extravagant way of life and his writing attracted her also. Through the spying hole in the door she watched with pleasure elegant women come at night and go in the morning, until her mother remarried and they moved to Innsbruck. However, she could never forget R. When she was eighteen, she found herself a job and returned to Vienna in the hope of meeting him. So they did. He didn’t remember her and she didn’t remind him of their previous acquaintance. They had dinner together and passed three passionate nights together before he left Vienna once more for extended holidays. Although she soon discovered that she was pregnant, she never had any intention of telling her lover and forcing him into marriage. She had the child, a boy, but as an unmarried mother any decent job to earn a living was barred to her. Thus she decided to use her beauty and sell her body to rich men becoming their mistress for one night or longer stretches of time. On a night out she met her beloved R. again. He had completely forgotten her and she left it at it wishing to spend another, a last passionate night with the love of her life knowing well that she’ll be gone from his mind as soon as she will have left.


The epistolary novella is a skilful double portrait of the anonymous woman and the bon vivant novelist that displays both of them in great psychological depth and entirely true to life. The voice of the feverish mourning mother confessing her life story to her ignorant lover is full of despair about her loss and yet not at all sentimental or even bitter, but it’s gripping and touching. For the rest, Stefan Zweig’s language is that of an extraordinarily well educated, highly cultured and much travelled man of his time that today feels a bit old-fashioned or even odd at times, but it flows lightly and is therefore a great pleasure to read.


Letter from an Unknown Woman - Stefan Zweig 


You liked what you learned about Letter from an Unknown Woman? Read also my long review of Stefan Zweig’s Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

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review 2016-01-23 11:00
Until the Straw Breaks the Camel's Back: Winter Quarters by Evelyn Grill
Winter Quarters: A Novel (Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought. Translation Series) - Evelyn Grill,Jean M. Snook
Winterquartier - Evelyn Grill

A small Austrian town isn't a bed of roses, especially not when you have been born with a visible defect like the protagonist of this shattering short novel from the early 1990s.


In Winter Quarters the author depicts the fate of a woman in her early forties who is doubly handicapped: she was born with a limp and her surroundings crippled her emotionally. Lacking self-esteem and missing love she is easy prey for a brute of a man who wants a comfortable home and a servile woman who lets him do as he likes - domestic violence included. Her surroundings don't see or pretend not to see what is going on. But although she is weak on the outside, anger is boiling under the surface. Where will it lead?


Curious? Read the long review on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany!

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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