Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Fleur Jaeggy ; translated by Gini Alhadeff

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2975-3
Publisher: New Directions

A constellation of characters (and their servants) move, shrouded by loss and isolation, through their lives in Amsterdam.

Beeklam was born in a house on a hill of boulders. After his mother’s death, he lived with his father, Reginald, a man of “innate cruelty” and “innocent, clueless inhumanity.” As an adult, he lives in a large stone building near the harbor in Amsterdam, where he moves among his basement full of statues. Gaps in the walls reflect the movement of the waves across the stone. At night, Beeklam walks the city, gazing into windows and feeling content to lack any domestic entrapments beyond his servant, Victor: “so much happiness he was happier living without.” In the second half of the book, we are introduced to young Katrin, who “considered everything ephemeral as her property.” She is especially haunted by a childhood spent at boarding school. Disgusted and isolated by her surroundings, she’s seen by the headmistress as being “gripped by some inscrutable witchcraft.” Katrin’s “companion” is the widower Kaspar, and their servant is Lampe, who formerly served Beeklam’s father. This interconnectedness among characters is sketched elusively: The characters never truly interact in meaningful ways, mostly delivering soliloquies, sometimes to themselves, sometimes in the presence of others, though rarely in true dialogue. Jaeggy highlights this disconnectedness by structuring the book as a hybrid between a play and a novel. The work proceeds through these chimeric vignettes, punctuated by Jaeggy’s hallucinatory, nonlinear prose, where phrases recur and echo, and the reader moves as if through a series of dream fragments guided by dream logic, where statues and passing crows can be more real than the human beings we share our lives with.

A beautiful but inscrutable book about disconnection and the passage of time.