The Wall by Marlen Haushofen

The WallTranslated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

An unnamed women goes to visit friends in their remote cabin. She decides to stay behind when they go to the local village for the evening, and when she wakes the next morning finds they never returned. Outside, she is surrounded by an invisible, impenetrable wall, with no sign of life on the other side.

This is one of those books in which nothing really happens (except the last page or so), but, at the same time, in that nothing everything happens: the monotonous, hard work of mental and physical survival. Though she occasionally reflects on her isolation and the nature of humanity and its relationship with the world, the narrator is mostly just getting on with the physical labour of feeding herself and her animals. It’s also the kind of book you could have a lot of fun pulling apart and analysing to figure out what the wall is a metaphor for. It could be the lonely distance between people, the distance between modern human lifestyles and nature, or simply between humans and animals/the environment.

The Wall is written in the form of a diary the narrator is writing at the end of the book, looking back on her first few years of survival. The voices of the narrator in the past and the narrator in the future are both written in present tense, within the same paragraph, which does get confusing at times, particularly in the first half. I found the first half a bit of a struggle to get through, and I wonder if this may in part be due to the translation. It often felt like it needed editing, particularly where identical bland phrases or descriptions were used within a few sentences of each other but not in a ‘literary device’ way. I didn’t notice this much in the second half, which makes me think something Haushofer was doing in the first half just didn’t come through in Whiteside’s translation.

There are no chapters and no breaks indicated anywhere. This works well in terms of creating a feeling of days flowing into each other endlessly and removing the normal ways we mark time. I always prefer books with chapters, preferably short chapters, because I sometimes struggle to read without them. However there were paragraphs which felt like beginning a new ‘section’, which absolutely helped, but you just don’t know until you get there.

I’m in two minds about The Wall. I enjoyed the second half, and liked how the book as a whole focused more on the struggle of survival rather than seeking explanations for the wall itself. But the first half was not as well-written as the second, and a bit of a struggle to get through. It came highly recommended, so I suspect this may be one to read in the original German, if you can. I think it’s a book that you will either connect with profoundly or find a bit ‘meh’, depending on what you’re looking for. Though there was something in it that I loved, The Wall didn’t quite reach the profound level for me.

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One Response to The Wall by Marlen Haushofen

  1. Pingback: August reads 2016 | mischief and miscellany

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