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by Peter Stamm & translated by Michael Hofmann

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-59051-140-9
Publisher: Handsel/Other Press

An oddly vacant, cold-blooded tale of a wayward young wife in isolated coastal Norway.

The clue to this chilling tale is not what fails to happen to the stiff protagonist—anything of importance—but what Swiss-German novelist Stamm (Agnes, 2000) chooses to tell about her life. Kathrine lives in a land swathed for most of the year in frigid near-darkness. The next village is 40 kilometers away, and when it snows, “when it did nothing but snow,” the town shuts down. At 25, she’s already been married and divorced; she supports her child with a job as a ship customs’ officer and the help of her mother, a widow who, like all the old people in the town, “sat silently at home, watched television, and waited.” After a quick courtship, Kathrine remarries. Upstanding, wealthy Thomas seems to love her and like her son, but he exhibits some troubling symptoms of a controlling personality. He gradually removes from her apartment anything she owns and essentially takes over the management of her life. Kathrine begins to question the fabulous facts about his life that Thomas and his family have led her to believe. Summoning her will, she follows him one night, then confronts him with his lies. She boards a trawler headed south, admitting to her friend Harald (the captain) that she has never crossed the Arctic Circle. “Welcome to the world,” he replies, and thus Kathrine is on her way, hopping trains through Europe, passing through Paris and Boulogne, in search of a Danish acquaintance who shows her around but doesn’t want much to do with her. While Kathrine hates darkness and doesn’t particularly miss her son, she eventually returns, even though she doesn’t want to, because there seems no other place for her. She is the eponymous “unformed landscape,” but the author stubbornly refuses to disclose enough about her essence to deeply engage our sympathies.

Stylistically two-dimensional, with frozen surfaces that resist the reader.