Top critical review
Interesting but Deep
on 20 April 2013
I think whether or not you will like this book depends on what you expect from it. I have just finished it, and read it to help revive my German. If this is your aim, then it's a good choice, since it's short, and the language is challenging enough without being so difficult as to make reading the book a chore.
It's divided into 4 chapters, with the second by far the longest. The action takes place during a single day in the main character's life. The opening chapter begins "Der Tag, an dem Hedwig kam, war ein Montag", while the closing chapter commences "Es war dunkel, und immer noch Montag". Walter, the protagonist, awakes to a letter from his father, reminding him to collect a young girl from the station and beseeching him to take care of her. A reasonable chunk of the narrative is then in flashback, after which point the action moves forward as he travels to the station. Having been disinterested in, and even mildly irritated by, his errand, he instantly becomes obsessed with the girl. He stations himself outside her door for a lengthy period, during which time many significant facts about his life are revealed in flashback, through his innermost thoughts and a conversation with his boss's son, Wolf. The story then moves forward again, but relies again on flashback during a conversation with Wolf's sister.
The decision to collect the girl has an enormous impact on his life and is likened to a train he caught when he could easily have taken another. The plot of the novella, if indeed the word "plot" should be used, is very slight. The book's impact relies on the themes and ideas behind it. So if you are a lover of fine literature I'm sure you would find a lot in this book. But if you're simply after a good story you should perhaps look elsewhere. I could be said to have missed the point of it, but still appreciated the vivid imagery as well as the clever analogies. I also found that the sparse and direct prose evoked the horrors of war time and post war Germany more effectively than floral language, and as such passages of text continue to haunt me.