September 2011
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Maybe This Time – Book Review

Outwardly normal events slip into drama before they tip into horror. These oblique tales exert a fascinating hold over the reader. – Meike Ziervogel, Peirene Press –

Maybe This Time is a translated collection of short stories by Alois Hotschnig, who is considered to be one of Austria’s most talented writers. The collection includes nine stories, some as short as two pages long, which are surreal and dreamlike and often baffling. In The Same Silence, the Same Noise a man obsessively watches his neighbors as they sit, day in and day out, on a pier overlooking the water. What begins as an obsession, begins to become paranoia with a touch of narcissism.

My attitude clearly had to change. But I didn’t know how to get away from these two. I simply didn’t exist for them, and that is how they hooked me. They refused contact, yet they willingly exposed themselves to me. I had caught the scent of their lives, which obviously had reached some sort of premature end. I had fed on them, devoured them, and now I wanted more. I couldn’t resist absorbing their most fleeting emotions as my own, and so I carried them inside me and I lived out their disquiet, which was also my disquiet. – from The Same Silence, the Same Noise –

Perhaps the oddest story in the collection is Then A Door Opens and Swings Shut. In this dreamlike narrative, a man is invited into an old lady’s home where he discovers a doll which looks like him – actually, there are several dolls which resemble him at various times in his life. The man continues to return to the woman’s house, drawn there by the visions he is able to see from his past. The story becomes less of a dream, and more like a nightmare when the woman begins to consume the doll – essentially consuming the man. This is clearly a symbolic tale of losing oneself to another.

I had surrendered myself to her and continued to abandon myself to her and to the images she showed me of myself. And so I returned to her every day, and before long it was as if I lived with her. – from Then A Door Opens and Swings Shut –

The publisher compares Hotschnig’s writing to Kafka whose themes of alienation and persecution seem to fit many of the stories in Hotschnig’s collection. With the exception of two stories, none of the characters have names and are referred to as “the man” or “the woman” which creates a feeling of disconnection. Names are so important to our uniqueness as human beings, and in Hotschnig’s world characters have lost that essential part of their identity. Despite this feeling of alienation, the characters are drawn to others, seeking something in other people which they do not have within themselves. In the title story Maybe This Time, Maybe Now, a family comes together for special occasions and waits for an uncle who never arrives. Despite the frustration of always waiting but never having any resolution, they continue to play out the same scene time after time.

It happens time after time. And time after time while I am with my family at my parents’ house, sitting in the garden or at the dinner table, my mind wanders to my front door where someone might perhaps be waiting. Then I look at each member of my family in turn and think how impossible it is to escape these family ties. No one has managed it except Walter, and for him there was a price which we all must pay. – from Maybe This Time, Maybe Now –

I found this collection to be decidedly odd and often confusing. The stories feel as though we are wading through very thick mud which sucks us in, yet makes us want to escape. Often I felt as though I were in a dream where things start out making sense, but soon devolve into confusion. I think it might have been helpful to read this book as part of a literature class or book group where symbolism and underlying meaning could have been teased out. To be truthful, I am not even sure how to rate this slim book. It was not something I enjoyed, and yet it is strangely compelling. So, I am doing something here I have never done before – I am leaving this book as “unrated.”

Readers who enjoy literary short fiction, and authors like Kafka, may want to pick up a copy of this collection.

Other reviews of the book:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alois Hotschnig, born in 1959, is one of Austria’s most critically acclaimed authors, eliciting comparison with Franz Kafka and Thomas Bernhard. He has written novels, short stories and plays. His books have won major Austrian and International honours, such as the Italo-Svevo award and the Erich-Fried nomination. Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht was first published in German in 2006.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Tess Lewis has been translating from German and French for two decades. For her translations of Peter Handke, Alois Hotschnig, Pascale Bruckner and Philippe Sollers she has been awarded PEN Translation Fund grants and an NEA Translation Fellowship.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

11 Comments

  1. September 13, 2011    

    This does sound strange, and by the way you describe it, also a little dark as well. I am not sure if I would like it in the end, but your review has really piqued my interest on this one. Very thoughtful and honest post. I appreciated it!

  2. September 13, 2011    

    I didn’t read all of your review because I got this book in German only a couple of days ago and still have to read it. Not enjoyable but compelling, that sounds interesting!

  3. September 14, 2011    

    Nice review! It is certainly odd, although I did enjoy it as well. I agree, the doll story is really odd, and I found it quite disturbing. It seems as if you got a lot of the same things out of it that I did – the alienation, the loss of identity, etc. I found that quite compelling, but understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Your comparison to a dream is very apt. I found that it was like that, with a strange kind of logic that is different from the real world but still similar to it, and perhaps that’s what makes them so uncanny!

  4. September 14, 2011    

    Heather: Thanks for stopping by – I don’t know how to recommend this book…other than to say, try it because some reviewers are loving it!

    Rikki: I will be interested to read your thoughts on it. When you have posted your review, stop back and give me a link so I can add it above.

    Andrew: Your review of this book was so well done, so I’m glad I found it. I agree that this is a disturbing collection on many levels. I’m glad you enjoyed the stories – I guess I am a little more “traditional” in what I like 🙂

  5. September 14, 2011    

    This is right up my alley. I just adore Kafka and his tales of alienation. They symbolism of these stories must be incredibly fascinating…just from the few you’ve talked about this is going on the TBR list. I think perhaps the namelessness of these characters may also speak to their nature simply as humans…they could be any one of us.

    Thanks for the great review!

  6. September 15, 2011    

    I wasn’t sure what to make of this one, and I agree with you in that it was confusing. There were parts where you could see that there was another meaning and while sometimes that meaning seemed easy to work out at other times it was frustrating! Yet even when it was easy it seemed there could be different ways to view it.

  7. September 15, 2011    

    Serena: This sounds like the perfect book for you. Maybe after you read it, you can explain it to me!!! *laughs*

    Charlie: I know what you mean – sometimes I would have a little flash of understanding, other times, I’d finish a story and scratch my head. I think there is a lot in this little book – I absolutely think it is one to be read as part of a group.

  8. September 15, 2011    

    LOL, I have to find a copy first before I can read it. Wait, I have to find a new bookstore…since my Borders is no more…ARGH

  9. September 16, 2011    

    Serena: Do you want the publisher contact?

  10. September 21, 2011    

    Although I found these tales confounding I also was beguiled by them, in my post I described it as tho Hotschnig was some decadent & bored god playing a malevolent game of sims. Enjoyed your post, thanks.

  11. September 26, 2011    

    Parrish: I like your comparison! Thanks for stopping by! I’ve added your link to the reviews above…

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