The Swiss author (stories: In Strange Gardens, 2006, etc.) examines a barren life in his latest novel.
Andreas, a German-speaking Swiss man, has been living alone in Paris for some 18 years, teaching German in a suburban school. He has been dating Nadia, who mouths off about politics and her ex-husband; funny, he never feels close to her. As a diversion he fits in Sylvie, a married woman with kids. Both women leave him feeling empty, but that’s okay; “[e]mptiness was his life in this city,” and he’s comfortable with it. His philosophy is not to get too involved in relationships, even ordinary friendships; he finds it “grotesque” that his best friend is gym teacher Jean-Marc. Returning to Switzerland for his father’s funeral, he finds he has no connection to the dead man, and is unmoved by the rituals of mourning. Religion is for the birds; the only thing he believes in is chance. In this study of anomie there are echoes of The Stranger, though Stamm’s novel has none of the power or the eventfulness of the Camus classic. Only one person has meant anything to Andreas: Fabienne, a Frenchwoman he met in his Swiss village when young. He followed her to Paris, but never declared his love. The story turns on Andreas’s persistent coughing, which leads to a biopsy. Does he have lung cancer? Declining to get the results, he decides to start over, “running away from the disease that was his life.” He quits his job, sells his apartment, dumps Nadia and Sylvie and even exhibits an entertaining mean streak. He returns to his native village with the much younger Delphine, a trainee teacher, though he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings for him, and has an inconclusive reunion with Fabienne, now a wife and mother, before he hits the road again. There is an upbeat ending which doesn’t ring true.
Andreas’s condition does not seem authentic in this mannered treatment.