ABSENCE by Peter Handke


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A remarkably abstract book even for the very abstract Handke (Across, The Afternoon of a Writer). Four pilgrims in this short allegory set out for somewhere, for some reason, a journey without purpose and without a map. The four are a mild-mannered young soldier, a jaded gambler, a tired woman, and an old man. As they make their way together--first by train, then by motor-camper, and finally by foot into a high country of varied landscape--the journey calls forth from each of them long, aria-like, Rilke-esque outbursts of dammed-up feelings, confusions, prophecies: ""You are new here, but not strangers. Each of you has been here before! In the period when you were wandering around aimlessly, you wanted to return here, you traced the paths leading to this country on the watermarks of your banknotes; when a book didn't speak to you of this country in the daytime, your dreams spoke of it at night."" As with most Handke, these emotional hemorrhages are effective, enigmatic though they are. The landscape-descriptions are less telling. The allegorical nature of the tale suggests that the four pilgrims are separate aspects of a writer's life; the situational vagueness seems to owe something to Chinese painting. Slippery but engrossing work, silkily translated.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0374527636
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux