Peter Stamm's latest novel 'Seven Years' is first person narrated by German architect, Alex, who tells us the story of his relationship with two very different women: his wife, Sonia, and his sometimes mistress, Ivona. The story which is set mostly in Munich, moves backwards and forwards in time as Alex relates how, as a student, he first meets Ivona, a young Polish woman, in a beer garden; he tells us: "I noticed that she was watching me... I felt like hurting her, being rude to her. Her ugliness and pokiness were a provocation to me..." Yet although Alex is, in many ways, repulsed by Ivona's physical unattractiveness, he somehow finds himself irresistibly drawn to her, visiting her several times in her dreary bedsitting room with the aim of seducing her.
Sonia is an entirely different kettle of fish; a fellow architecture student, she is beautiful, intelligent, from a wealthy family and a different social class to Alex; she admires Le Corbusier, where Alex favours Aldo Rossi; she is confident and ambitious where Alex is more cautious and less driven. Alex does not feel he has a chance with Sonia, he finds there is something unapproachable about her: "She was like one of those dolls whose clothes are sewn onto their bodies" and he cannot imagine she would ever go to bed with him. But Alex is wrong; Sonia has decided that she wants Alex, and what she wants, she usually gets, and before long they are married and have set up their own architecture firm and look forward to a life of shared ideas and values. However, Alex cannot settle and when, after seven years together, Sonia has not become pregnant, he starts thinking about Ivona and begins visiting her again even though he knows he is behaving badly. And then something happens which alters the lives of all three people in this unusual triangle, but I won't say more for fear of spoiling the story for prospective readers.
This novel is well-written and makes for quite an interesting read, but I have to be honest and say that I could not form any connection with the characters or their situations. Both Sonia and Alex appear cold, self absorbed individuals and I found as I progressed my way through the novel that I cared less about them as time went on. It is difficult to understand Alex's attraction to Ivona, especially when he tells us over and over again how physically repulsive he finds her - although her devotion to him probably makes him feel good and makes him feel that he doesn't need to be anything other than himself with her; however Ivona's attraction would be more understandable if she were passionate with Alex - whereas, in fact, she appears even more lifeless when making love than his sexually cold wife. I would really like to say that Peter Stamm's wonderful prose made up for the fact that I did not find this a satisfying or enjoyable story - and in some ways it did; he is obviously a writer of some calibre - but overall, I would say this book had an intellectual attraction rather than an emotional one and left me feeling rather deflated, uninvolved and very sorry that I could not leave a higher rating for it.