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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and sensitive dissection of death and marriage, 18 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Next World Novella (Paperback)
This latest publication from Peirene is a fascinating dissection of misunderstandings and failure to communicate that can lead to the failure of a marriage. But Hinrich Schepp doesn't realise any of this until after the death of his beloved Doro, when it is too late.

`Being dead, he thought, means first and foremost that you can't apologize, can't forgive and be reconciled, there's nothing left to be forgiven, only to be forgotten. Or rather, there's nothing to be forgotten, only forgiven.'

It's short, a novella rather than a novel, as implied in the title, but its 138 pages contain a depth of miscommunication and loss. The book begins after Doro has died, when Schepp discovers her sitting at an awkward angle in her chair, as if she had fallen asleep while editing the manuscript that lay on her desk. His sense of shock and disbelief as the realisation dawns is beautifully and sensitively described:

`I don't understand, thought Schepp, understanding.

`It's not true, Schepp decided.

`Everything will be all right again, Schepp assured himself, and at the same time he was overcome by the certainty that he was choking.

``At least say something,' he whispered finally. `Just one word.''

The story is a mere snapshot, one day in the life of Schepp, an academic in an arcane field of ancient Chinese language. It is through Schepp's recollections and the notes on the manuscript Doro was editing before she died that we experience the depth of feeling and misunderstandings, and how they had arisen. The details of pertinent points in their relationship are portrayed in detail such that there is no need for more, no need to know what happened during the intervening years, and it is exquisitely translated from the German, occasionally wry, occasionally with a light touch of humour. For instance, in the early days Schepp habitually took Doro a pot of green tea in her room at the university,

`But usually she didn't even notice when he stood beside her for a few too many seconds, gazing at her wide-eyed. What could she have seen behind the thick lenses of his glasses anyway, except his pupils, a couple of sparkling pinheads? With his extremely poor eyesight, Schepp was lucky to get out of the room again without bumping into everything. No, he was certain that nothing could bind this perfect young woman to a man like him.'

It's sensitive and fascinating and it leaves you reflecting for long after you've finished reading it. I'm pleased I read it, but the subject matter makes it hard to describe it as enjoyable. Nevertheless, it's worthwhile and short. Read it and see what you think.
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