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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

on 20 September 2014
A small-scale Dalkey Archive Press - what's not to like? - yet halfway through this stale, airless little book of pretentious gothic short stories I felt my brain slowly turn to lead. Sorry, Peirene
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VINE VOICEon 11 September 2011
I am not normally a great fan of short stories either, but this stricking collections by austrian author Hotschnig totally got me hooked. While I was reading, I could not help thinking what film directors such as Polanski ot fellow austrian Haneke could do with such a brilliant material...All stories revolve around questions of identity, obsessions or paranoia. Within a perfectly ordinary daily life setting, things suddenly slip, become distorted or fantasmagoric and the stuff of nightmare knits itself into 'normality'. A man becomes the next door family's stalker. A man visits a friend but is diverted to an old woman's flat with a terrifying array of dolls, one of the doll being himself...(this was perhaps the best and most disturbing story of all, giving a taste of deep unease) a family constantly awaits for the arrival of a son that never ever turns up, leaving one doubting the mythical son's very existence. A man finds his flat not quite his, and fits himself every day into a different life where everyone yet seems to know him very well...
A few words here will not describe well enough the deep unsettling and fluid quality that each story possesses and I could not recommend enough to dip into this beautiful volume if you have 2 hours to spare!
I also want to add what tactile pleasure it is to hold a Peirene Press book, as they truly all are beautiful inside out. A small publisher reaching instantly great heights!
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on 16 September 2011
In this collection of short stories Austrian author Alois Hotschnig depicts a number of episodes written in an affectless style, with little dialogue, and very occasional flashes of Kafkaesque humour. His anonymous and alienated characters wait and watch trying to interpret events around them. The reader too is a watcher following Hotschnig's prose whilst not understanding its import, only feeling a sense of sadness, unease, or dread.

This is a difficult book but I'm very glad I read it and I wholly recommend it. Often on finishing one of the stories (most of which are very short) I went straight back to the beginning reading it for a second or even third time. This re-reading pays off and seemingly inconsequential details accrue significance and generate new emotions; both 'The Light in the Room' and 'Morning, Noon, and Night' are particularly fine in this regard. Only two of the stories ('Two Ways of Leaving' and 'The Beginning of Something') left me feeling unsatisfied, and even then their oblique hints and creepy imagery insinuated their way into my thoughts (as well as giving me strange uneasy dreams).

Certain images will linger long in the mind: a man raking the weeds growing on the bed of a lake; a couple spending their days lying, in all weathers, on sun loungers; an old woman surrounded by dolls; an episode in the life of an almost recognisable invertebrate; a family's never-ending wait for Uncle Walter (who ironically is one of the few named characters in the collection).

(The German title of this book is "Die Kinder Beruhigte Das Nicht", which literally translates as "That Didn't Reassure the Children", a phrase which appears in the story 'Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut' (p. 43).)
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VINE VOICEon 30 August 2011
This little book is a triumph. I have to confess to not being a lover of short stories, but this is in a different league altogether.
Written by one of Austria's leading authors, Alois Hotschnig, it is veritable potpourri of unique observations of everyday life in frequently unsettling detail. Each story packs an emotional punch and, in many cases, presents a conundrum for the reader to decipher. In "The Same Silence, The Same Noise" a neighbour ponders the motive of the couple next door's continual presence on their jetty. Day after day they sit on their deckchairs by the lake side, regardless of the weather. Aside from raking the reeds, they do and say nothing at all. Why does a woman, living close to man's friend's house, entice him in to see her doll collection? Moreover, why does she caress a doll that resembles the man himself? That is question posed in "Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut". For me, the most accomplished story is "Morning, Noon and Night" which portrays a seemingly very ordinary day in any town, anywhere in the world. Yet ,periodically, the author injects a line which is unsettling and out of keeping with the plot line. What has happened in that bustling street? What is the cause of the newly built wall and railings, not to mention the skid marks on the road? What has taken the character to the GP and why?
Oh, and this little book is addictive. You will find yourself reading and rereading each story.......just in case you missed something the first time round! All nine stories are completely different and I defy anyone not to be hooked from the first page.
Another triumph for Peirene Press who have an uncanny knack of selecting the cream of European literature's crop. This acclaimed Austrian author's work has been lovingly translated and this mesmerising collection of stories demands to be read and enjoyed.
This book was sent to me by the publisher for an honest review.
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on 18 October 2011
I'm increasingly interested in European writers whom we generally ignore in the UK, and was drawn to this book by an Austrian author on reading some rather backhanded praise in the Guardian. It turns out to be an excellent collection of short stories with a *slightly* Kafka-esque, *slightly* postmodern feel. I wouldn't say there was anything avante-garde about the writing, its just different and interesting. Thoroughly enjoyable.
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on 7 September 2011
I found this a very unsettling collection of short stories. I mean that in a good way. Being unsettled is often the prelude to thinking about things in a new way, and to me that's one of the most important functions of literature.

The stories are very varied in style and content, but many of them deal with the question of identity in one way or another. In the first story, The Same Silence, The Same Noise, a man becomes addicted to spying on his neighbours. Yet he does not really seem interested in the neighbours themselves, but in seeing himself through their eyes. He is obsessed with why they don't acknowledge him, and although it is he who is spying on them, he is the one who feels invaded by them, who tries to escape. His identity merges into theirs, and he realises that "in truth, it was myself I was now looking at."

The final story, You Don't Know Them, They're Strangers, also deals with the merging of identities. A man comes home one night to a flat that has someone else's name on the door but that seems familiar still, and his neighbours and friends call him by that name, even though it's not his name and he doesn't know the people who call him a friend. He goes to work in a part of town he's never been to, again is recognised by his colleagues even though he doesn't know them, and does a normal day's work before returning home to find a different name on the door. The same neighbours who had known him the night before now introduce themselves as if for the first time.

See what I mean by unsettling? There's a dreamlike quality to a lot of the stories, a weird kind of internal consistency that often doesn't conform to real-world logic but nevertheless feels natural within the slightly warped reality of each story. And through many of the stories runs this same thread of loss of identity. In another one, The Beginning of Something, a man washes his face and raises his arms to wipe it with a towel, but then realises "The arms weren't my arms." In perhaps the most unsettling one of all, Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut, a man is invited into an old woman's house, and although he doesn't know her, she treats him as a long-overdue guest. She has an enormous collection of dolls, which she calls "her children", and eventually she brings out one that looks exactly like the narrator and shares his name, Karl. She asks him, "Isn't that why you're here?" As he visits more regularly, he comes to identify more and more with the doll Karl, until:

"Whether I liked it or not, I too had become one of the old woman's dolls, or perhaps I had always been one. She sat me on her lap, and I let it happen, because in exchange she gave me something I wanted and each time craved more deeply - myself."

Apart from Karl, very few of the characters in the book are named. Many stories have a first-person narrator, and otherwise characters are referred to simply as "the woman", "the man", "the couple", etc. It all has a profoundly alienating effect, especially when coupled with the weird meldings of identity. I'd thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who's looking for something a little weird and disturbing and different.
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