There Goes The Fear Again (Let It Go…)

A hearty welcome to everyone joining me from Judith’s Literary Blog Hop for this special giveaway post – please visit her page for a list of all the participants 🙂  As German Literature Month is just around the corner, I thought I’d use today’s review to promote Caroline and Lizzy’s wonderful event and highlight an excellent writer too.  Last year, I read Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle (Chess) for the first German Lit Month, and it was one of my favourite books for the year, prompting me to rush out (metaphorically…) and order Angst (Fear) – only to leave it on my shelves for the best part of a year…

I’m making up for that oversight now, and after my review, I’ll be giving you the chance to get a copy for yourself.  Oh, and don’t worry if your German’s not quite up to scratch; those lovely people at Pushkin Press, obsessed as they are by Herr Zweig, have a lovely English-language version of Fear, and I’ll be giving away one of those too 🙂

Angst, like Schachnovelle, is a wonderful, psychological tale.  It’s a relatively short work, but right from the first words, Zweig plunges us into the world of his hapless heroine:

“Als Frau Irene Wagner die Treppe von der Wohnung ihres Geliebten hinabstieg, packte sie mit einem Male wieder jene sinnlose Angst.” p.9 (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011)

“As Irene Wagner walked down the stairs from her lover’s apartment, she was once again gripped by that pointless fear.” ***

Irene Wagner is a wealthy married woman who has taken a lover to get out of the rut of her boring bourgeois existence, driven to the affair by the eventlessness of her life.  The thrill she initially experiences becomes the ‘Angst’, the ‘fear’, of the title, and her relationship becomes a series of brief moments of excitement and happiness, surrounded by long periods of crippling anxiety.

We enter Irene’s life at a crucial point, as her world begins to crumble once she reaches the bottom of those stairs.  As she attempts to leave the building, a woman stops her, claiming to be a girlfriend that Irene’s lover has cast off in favour of his new conquest.  Panicked and confused, Irene (hidden behind a veil) thrusts some money into the woman’s hands and flees, hoping never to see her again.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that.  The woman somehow finds Irene’s house and threatens to tell the wealthier woman’s husband about what has been going on.  Irene’s initial plan of brazening it out crumbles immediately under the strength of her rival’s onslaught, and she agrees to keep paying her blackmailer.  As the sums begin to get higher and higher, Irene doubts that she can continue to pay for much longer without her husband becoming suspicious.  And indeed, Herr Wagner is suddenly very concerned about his wife’s strange behaviour…

Angst is another brilliant book, one I can recommend to anyone.  The theme of the novella is fear itself and the incapacitating effect it can have on the human mind and body.  Having been attracted into an affair by her humdrum everyday life and the perceived glamour of such a relationship, Irene is actually ill-suited to such an existence.  As Zweig says:

“…wie die meisten Frauen, wollte sie den Künstler sehr romantisch von der Ferne und sehr gesittet im persönlichen Umgang, ein funkelndes Raubtier, aber hinter den Eisenstäben der Sitte.” p.25

“…like most women, she wanted the artist to be romantic from a distance and very civilised up close, a sparkling predator, but behind the iron bars of manners.” ***

Irene feels trapped by her unchanging, tedious, bourgeois existence, but she soon comes to realise that this is the way she is meant to live her life (in fact, after the initial excitement of the affair, it becomes just another part of her weekly routine, slotted in between her visits to friends and in-laws…).  Once the affair is discovered though, this all changes, and she begins to suffer the consequences of her betrayal.  Zweig repeatedly shows us the physical effects of the psychological strain – cold chills, electric shocks of emotion, a racing pulse, fatigue…  But what is she actually afraid of?

Her mental torture has little to do with the outside world – Irene is her own torturer, subconsciously punishing herself for her indiscretions (well, this is Vienna, after all…).  The writer constantly repeats the words ‘Angst’ and ‘unterirdisch’ (‘subterranean’ or ‘underground’), emphasising the psychological nature of her struggle, a struggle against herself.  Even in her dreams, she can find no respite from her emotions:

“Wie zwischen Kerkerwänden, müßig und erregt, ging sie auf und nieder in ihren Zimmern; die Straße, die Welt, die ihr wirkliches Leben waren, waren ihr gesperrt, wie der Engel mit feurigem Schwert stand dort die Erpresserin mit ihrer Drohung.” p.42

“As if between prison walls, idle and excited, she walked up and down in her rooms; the street, the world, which were her real life, were barred to her – like the angel with the flaming sword, her blackmailer stood there with her threat.”***

Her fear prevents her from confessing the affair to her husband, but as the story progresses, we begin to wonder if that is the whole truth.  Why is she doing this to herself?  What exactly is it that Irene is so afraid of?  The answers, to these and other questions, may well surprise you.  As well as being a wonderful psychological story, Angst has a great ending 🙂

*** All English translations in the text have been messed up by yours truly 🙂

So, on to the giveaway!  I will be giving away two copies of the book reviewed above, one in the original German and one in the 2010 Pushkin Press English-language version.  If you want to enter, simply:

  – comment on this post, stating whether you want the English or German version
  – write the word ‘please‘ somewhere in your comment; manners are important 🙂
  – a contact e-mail would be nice, but I will endeavour to track down the winner!
  – commenting on my review is welcome but not obligatory 😉

This competition is open to all, but please note that I will be using The Book Depository to send this prize, so it is limited to people living in countries where The Book Depository has free delivery.  Entries will close at midnight (Melbourne time) on Wednesday, the 31st of October, 2012, and I’ll be announcing the winner shortly after.  Good luck to all, and may your dreams be free of fear…


59 thoughts on “There Goes The Fear Again (Let It Go…)

  1. I'm intrigued, Tony. I've probably ever read something by Zweig, but I can't remember now. We had to read some German literature in German class. Although German was a subject in my final exam, I would Please ask for the English translation.

    Thanks for joining in the hop, Tony!


  2. Intriguing! This is an author who's been on the periphery of my radar for a while and your review makes him sound very essential reading. I would please like to win an English copy and fingers crossed! Thanks for offering this giveawau!


  3. Please maybe bitte? You'd be sponsoring my participation in German Literature Month and sponsoring is such a benevolent action. Unfortunately (merde!) my German is not up to snuff, so I would need the English. Sprechen zie Deutsch? NEIN. (I enjoyed your review too – never read anything by Zweig but these themes of anxiety re: appearances and duplicity is one of my favourite things about novels set in former totalitarian states).


  4. Wow, a fascinating choice of book AND a love of good manners? I like you already. Yes please, I'd love to be entered for the giveaway – I've never read Zweig before but have heard so many good things about his books that I really should remedy that sometime soon! I can't read German so could you enter me for the English edition? Thank you very much!

    Ellie @ Musings of a Bookshop Girl
    emp501 (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk


  5. I have Kafka's America right behind my shoulder on the bookcase, bur unfortunately my degree limits me to only English literature. Yay… So, no German work has ever been really in my hands. Please kindly consider me for the English translation (there's no way I'lll start learning a fifth language, though). Thank you.


  6. I would like to be entered into the drawing for the English version please! I'm still working on my second and third languages, don't think it's time to add another one! Thanks for hosting an international giveaway.
    good books and a cup of tea (at) live (dot) com


  7. Love your comment about rushing to buy the book then letting it sit for a year. So many of my books have that same fate.

    Coming from someone who has issues with anxiety, I find psychological stories fascinating. I would love a chance to win the English Translation of Angst. Thanks for the chance to win, and for introducing me to the book. I'll definitely be adding it to my TBR list.


  8. Hiya Tony, I've never read any Zweig before but I rather like the snippets you've translated here. English for me though, my German is nowhere near reading-a-novel level! msalexinleeds at gmail dot com


  9. Hi Tony

    I'm was following the blog hop and stumbled upon your entry. Sounds fascinating, could you please enter my name for the chance to win the English-language copy. Thanks.


  10. I really appreciate books that make the distinction of self-caused anxiety versus outside factors/pressure creating a miserable existence.

    Please enter me in you giveaway for the English version.

    I am a new follower – nrlymrtl at gmail dot com

    Thank you!


  11. This is a book that would probably intimidate me and would not consider reading, but it sounds like something I would enjoy thanks to your review. Thank you!
    And I would love to win the English version, please.



  12. I loved the review and am putting it on my TBR list. I especially liked that part of it was in German, I can't read it (I had a friend read it to me) but thought it was cool that you did it both in English and German.

    I would love the English version please.



  13. The book, in English, sounds interesting. I think every married person has to realize that we'll never have that thrill of the flirtation, the first times of touching, kissing, sex… Still, this woman has gotten herself into quite a pickle. Oh, please, include me in the giveaway.
    Oh, I wanted to tell you about a new meme I started on Mondays in case you want to play along On Mondays, you’ll find My Dreaming of France meme


  14. As I read your post,I wish I had learned German as I have my Aunt that came to America after WWII. I follow her to a small degree;just not enough for my comfort. Please send me the 2010 English version. I am thankful for the book coming to me as I enjoyed the synopsis,butchered or not.Stefan Zweig has been talked about by my English Teacher friends so now I will explore his writing too.


  15. I would love to be entered for the English version, please! I have enjoyed the few of Zweig's works that I've read so far, and would love to read more. Thanks for the generous offer, much appreciated! 🙂


  16. Oh I like your blog and the categories set out so clearly in the tabs. I may copy your style.

    I would like the English version, please. A fascinating choice. Thank you.


  17. Hi Tony – I first encountered Zweig last year reading 'Chess' as well, and I've been hooked on him ever since. Such a fantastic author, definitely deserving of the attention he's now receiving. I'd absolutely love to be included in the draw for the English edition published by Pushkin, so please do!

    Many thanks!


  18. Could you kindly pick my name out of the hat? Pretty please? I'd love a copy of the English translation since I haven't had the privilege yet of learning German. Thanks for the giveaway!

    Zara Alexis


  19. +JMJ+

    Your review makes this story sound like a cross between Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary! I'm learning German right now, but I don't think I'll be ready for the German version any time soon, so please have my entry down for the English translation. =)

    Thank you so much for the giveaway!

    PS — My e-mail address is on my Blogger profile. =)


  20. I greatly enjoy your blog and have a great amount of respect for your recommendations. I am currently enjoying (very much btw) Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir's novel The Greenhouse based on your review. So glad I picked this one up. Please consider me interested in the giveaway of the english version of Zweig's Fear.


  21. This sounds really interesting. I'd love to read it. I would need the English version, please, as I don't speak or read German. Thanks for the chance to enter your giveaway.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com


  22. Thanks for all the entries (and kind words!). The contest is now closed – the winners will be announced tonight (Melbourne time) in my first German Literature Month post 🙂


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