A dour excursion into a pocket of postwar Vienna, shaped by parricide, lost loves and remnants of Nazi malevolence.
This sequel to Vyleta’s 2012 novel, The Quiet Twin, moves the action from pre–World War II Vienna to 1948, as two people return to the city: Robert, a young man trying to uncover why his stepfather was thrown to his death from a window of the family home, and Anna, who wants to locate her long-missing husband, the doctor at the center of the previous novel. Robert’s old home is occupied by a nightmarish cast of characters: His mother is lost in drugs and alcohol and unwilling to part with her portrait of Hitler; his stepbrother, Wolfgang, stands accused of murdering his father; and Wolfgang’s wife is a study in ignorant lassitude. The home is being cared for—or barely so—by Eva, the hunchbacked maid of the title, who bitterly mocks Robert’s efforts to understand what’s happened. Life at Anna’s old home is only marginally better, as her efforts to locate her husband bring her into the orbit of a U.S. expat journalist and an earnest ne’er-do-well, as well as Robert, with whom a semblance of romance blossoms. As in The Quiet Twin, Vyleta piles on intersecting characters but not always to useful effect; if Eva is meant as a symbol of the degradations of a decade under the Nazis’ iron hand, she’s too unlikable and too absent from much of the narrative to do the job well. Wolfgang’s trial gives the novel a lift, encapsulating the mood of bloodlust and suspicion that seems to consume the city. But the multiple plot vectors dampen the story; by the time the fate of Anna’s husband finally becomes clear, it registers little emotional effect.
Vyleta conjures an appropriate landscape of gloom and ruin and sends too many people off to wander in it.