At a reception, Marianne Helldegen, young wife of a prominent German industrialist, is approached by the guest of honor, a visiting author named Berthold Moncken. Berthold says to her, simply, ""You're someone worth dying with."" And thus the case is sealed: that very night, along with Berthold, Marianne returns home and, before the very eyes of husband and father-in-law, gathers up a few things and then leaves--in absolute self-assurance--with her new love. But the immediate aftermath is less cut-and-dried. After the at-first-sight lovers run away, life proves oddly dreary: Berthold works all the time; the relationship is at first sexless; and even after they become lovers Berthold remains so affectless (he hates his own work, passively accepts every bad thing as a punishment deserved) that Marianne comes to feel that she's more a burden than a redemption to him. Thus she's easily persuaded (by her elegant, discreet, kind father-in-law) to return home. Will Berthold again show up to reclaim her? Will she again go? Yes to both--and the effect is reminiscent of an endless mobius strip on the Dantean theme of Paolo and Francesca. But Nossack (The Impossible Proof, To the Unknown Hero) is less interested in the decisions of plot than in the long gaps between: this is a novel that trades in dour postponements, generating the thickest, most nearly submarine sense of slow motion, of things not working out. . . as if according to some depressing plan. And the narrative is thus so speeded-down that atmospheres are invariably foggy, with stilted speech also weighing things down: ""What should go in? It doesn't suit me to play the watchdog. But if you insist on hearing my opinion, I don't believe that she went to him. It's not in character."" Interesting work, then, but hardly as intricate as previous Nossack fiction--and the basic set-up is too frail to support a novel of such lengthy languor.
Pub Date: June 8, 1982
Page Count: -
Publisher: Fromm International (560 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10022)