Hadn’t she become even a bit cooler, more distant, more reserved, as if, in her intuitively vegetative way, she had picked up on his dismal failure and wanted to avoid it for herself? Was she secretly ashamed of him, was she suffering with him so much that she was hiding her empathy? – from Next World Novella, page 100 –
Henrich and Doro’s marriage is established on an unusual premise. Based on her study of the I Ching (one of the oldest of Chinese classic texts), Doro believes that in the next world she will be forced to swim across a very cold lake alone – an impossible task which will eventually take her through a second death to the afterlife. Henrich promises they will do this together – if he dies first, he will wait for her at the edge of the lake; if she dies first, it will be she who will wait for him. At the opening of Next World Novella, the two have been married for years when Henrich discovers Doro has died at her desk, in the process of editing one of his early attempts at a novel. Doro’s notes in the margins puzzle Henrich – they seem hostile, and Doro appears to know much about Henrich’s secret yearnings. As Henrich sits down by his dead wife and begins to read, the undercurrents of their life come together with surprising revelations.
The reader must assemble Doro and Henrich’s marriage through his memories of their life, his fictional work, and Doro’s puzzling notes. Matthias Politycki writes with a great deal of irony, a dark sort of humor which gives the novella a sense of inevitability.The novella explores such weighty themes as death (and what might come after death) and infidelity. It also begs the question: How well do we really know someone? As Henrich struggles to make sense of Doro’s notes, he is filled with frustration that she cannot help him to understand her thoughts.
To be dead, he thought, means above all that you can’t answer questions, you can’t clear things up, you can’t get things straight and see that you may have misunderstood them, so they will also be hopelessly false for other people. – from Next World Novella, page 70 –
Next World Novella has a dreamy, other worldly feel to it. The reader sometimes feels afloat, at a loss for what is really happening. It is unsettling. I found myself sometimes as confused as Henrich. As the novella moves forward and Doro’s body becomes colder and the stench of death becomes stronger, I began to feel almost desperate for Henrich to hurry up and finish reading so he could leave the room.
Out of all the Peirene Press titles, this is probably my least favorite – not because the writing is flawed (it is actually brilliant), but because I could not relate to the narrators. This is a highly literary, very philosophical little book which packs a big punch. Politycki provides a bit of a twist at the end, a further question mark in a book filled with questions. Readers who enjoy short, literary works that are a bit open ended, will probably find this novella a good read.
Matthias Politycki is one of the most successful literary authors out of Germany. He published Next World Novella in Germany in 2009, and it is now available to English speaking readers through a translation by Anthea Bell, published by Peirene Press this year.
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FTC Disclosure: This book was provided to me from the publisher for review on my blog.