Welcome to German Literature Month, thirty days showcasing the best fiction, modern and classic, written in the German language 🙂 It’s very important to note that the month is about celebrating the language, not the country – throughout the month, I’ll be trying my best to mix it up when it comes to geography, chronology and genre.
To start off then, it’s only fitting that I branch out a little from my usual classic German novels and novellas and introduce a collection of short stories from a contemporary Austrian writer (one which many of you may have heard of…). Alois Hotschnig’s slender collection of stories, Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht, also known by the English title of its Peirene Press translation, Maybe This Time, comprises nine tales, all of which are normal enough on the surface, but which eventually become… well, ever so slightly creepy.
The first story, Dieselbe Stille, dasselbe Geschrei, is a good example of what the collection is about. A man who has recently arrived in his area tells us about his neighbours, a couple who spend all day lounging around on a deck by the river at the back of their house. This seemingly innocuous behaviour gradually makes the man feel strangely oppressed, and his waking (and sleeping) moments begin to be filled with his obsession over the neighbours’ lack of activity. Very quickly though, despite the sympathetic first-person narrative, the reader starts to mistrust our guide – especially when he starts using binoculars to spy on the couple…
Hotschnig elegantly plays with the idea of a man unable to move on with his life, caught up obsessing on something he doesn’t understand, and it’s a theme which crops up several times in the collection. In Vielleicht diesmal, vielleicht jetzt (the story which gives the English translation its name), it’s a whole family which is unable to live their lives, waiting as they are for the mysterious, ever-elusive – and ever-absent – Uncle Walter to join them at a family gathering. In Morgens, mittags, abends (probably my favourite of the nine stories), a whole area seems to be caught in a loop, people watching people, crossing roads, walking down the street and coming back again, all fixed in time by an event we are unaware of until the last paragraph. One aspect of this story I loved was a girl playing the flute, practicing the same few bars over and over again, breaking off at the same point each time – very much like a stuck record.
The ideas in the stories are excellent, and they are all wonderfully constructed. I went through the collection for a second time a week after the first reading, and if anything, I enjoyed it more the second time around (a sure sign of a good piece of writing).