An insomniac’s thoughts ravel out across the night.
A man can’t sleep. Over the course of a night, he thinks, obsessively, about whatever flits through his mind. His housekeeper, for instance, who “drinks a lot and prays a lot.” Also the books in his library and the contents of his night table. About this aspiring sleeper the reader knows next to nothing: not his name, age, occupation, or general whereabouts. This man, our narrator, is a longtime insomniac. He has grown accustomed to living this way. He has developed various coping mechanisms and strategies. Sometimes he reads the telephone book. For a period of time, he would make telephone calls to some of the names he found listed there. Lest this all sound too harmlessly whimsical, consider the following: “Do you feel guilty, Mr. Huncke?” he says during one sample call. “Mr. Huncke, please listen to me now: they know everything, everything. Do you understand? I would advise you to leave now, while you still have time!” Hildesheimer (Marbot, 1983, etc.), who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, published the book in the mid-1960s. Appearing now for the first time in English, the work alludes darkly, cryptically, almost never directly to the second world war. “I exist in a world of monstrosities,” he admits in a rare moment of clarity. For most of his “monologue” (which Hildesheimer famously insisted the book was, not a novel at all), he is almost maddeningly elliptical. This makes the moments of lucidity all the more momentous. Trying to sleep, he picks up and reads an old Norwegian railway timetable. There he comes across the name of a town, a name that appeals to him, and from which the book gets its title. What is it that appeals to him?—or, as he says, “What should I expect from Tynset?” In Tynset, “there have never been any battles. No Battle of Tynset….There is nothing to document or depict.” By following his thought process, we witness the memories he tries to avoid, to repress. Whether he’s successful is no simple matter.
An opaquely powerful work about obsession, delusion, repression, and guilt.