A remote village in Switzerland populated almost entirely with ambitious writers gets a surprise when the devil himself comes to visit.
In this very creepy novella, the award-winning Italian novelist Maurensig (Theory of Shadows, 2018, etc.) constructs a mystery with the structure of nesting dolls, folding story within story until it’s impossible to separate technique from narrative. In the outside shell of his story, Maurensig, presumably writing as himself, describes his role as “a pole of attraction for aspiring writers,” all hoping to earn the novelist’s authoritative opinion. One day, he runs across an anonymous novel called The Devil in the Drawer written by what he imagines is “a pale, blondish, aspiring writer rambling through the valleys of Switzerland.” The anonymous writer, whom Maurensig names Friedrich, describes traveling to a three-day literary conference in the hometown of Carl Jung. While taking a walk in the woods one morning, Friedrich runs across a rabid fox and a priest, Father Cornelius, who tells the young author a story about the devil coming to visit a village in rural Switzerland named Dichtersruhe: “I’m talking about the devil-made-man, flesh and blood like me and you.” Here we reach the heart of darkness as the devil introduces himself as Bernhard Fuchs, a publisher from Lucerne who plans to turn the town’s old mill into a publishing house and establish a literary prize, setting off a wave of madness among the town’s writers. By the time Maurensig puts a weapon into the priest’s hand, Chekhov’s maxim is in full effect. The language, translated by Appel (Snapshots, 2019, etc.), is both florid and fluid as you might imagine of Maurensig’s gifts. Whether it succeeds as a commentary on the writing life or the publishing industry probably depends on the reader, but regardless, Maurensig gives us a masterfully constructed gothic horror story designed to keep aspiring writers up at night.
A macabre little Alpine horror story elevated by masterful storytelling and language.