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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous and yet disturbing, and enjoyable and insightful read, 25 Oct 2009
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Tanners (Paperback)
I have enjoyed reading The Tanners by Robert Walser. The only other book I've read by Walser is The Assistant, which I enjoyed greatly so I came to this newly published edition of The Tanners with a sense of anticipation.

Robert Walser is an important writer for those with an interest in the literature of the first half of the last century. W G Sebald provides a critical biography of Walser in his 36 page introduction to this edition of The Tanners which is worth the purchase price in itself, beginning with the words,

"The traces Robert Walser left on his path through life were so faint as to have been almost effaced altogether. . . he was only ever connected with the world in the most fleeting of ways".

The Tanners tells the story of three brothers and a sister, Simon, Kaspar, Klaus, and Hedwig who together comprise the Tanner family. As the cover says, the story concerns "their wanderings, meetings, separations, quarrels, romances, employment and lack of employment over the course of a year or two". The story focuses on Simon, a strange young man, devoid of ambition who fails to see the need to make progress in the world and drifts from on temporary job to another, finding accommodation with a variety of women who he seems to charm into unconcern about prompt payment of rent.

He has no difficulty with landing himself on the charity of others but wraps around himself a cloak of philosophical musings which help him justify his dependency. He soon loses interest in the clerical jobs he takes on and makes long-winded speeches to his employers explaining why they have disappointed him.

A long section of the book is taken up with his prolonged stay with his sister Hedwig, who is employed as a teacher in a remote village. In this situation Simon comes into his own as a poetical son of the soil who charms his sister into providing for him while he muses on the fulfilment of living simply in rural surroundings.

When eventually Hedwig managed to free herself from her limpet-like brother, Simon returns to the city where he takes a position as a servant to a widow with an invalid son. Simon, always seeing the positive in any situation takes to his new position with enthusiasm, adopting an almost masochistic delight in the restrictions of his new life.

By the end of the book, we realise that Simon is never going to amount to much in this world. He drifts on to more rented rooms and more temporary jobs. He meets people in inns, goes out for walks with whoever wants to accompany him and he lecture them at length about the joys of the simple, uncommitted life, despite its aimlessness and its deprivations.

The book is infused with humour, but we also sense Simon's alienation from the concerns of others, and the anxieties that underlay the lifestyle of a drifter. We also feel that anxiety on behalf of the people Simon encounters, for sooner or later they are going to be disappointed in him and find that his charm is thinly laid.

A fine and important book for those interested in literature of the period, but also an enjoyable and rewarding read.
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The Tanners
The Tanners by Robert Walser (Paperback - 6 Oct 2009)
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