Saturday, 27 April 2013

Translation Challenge: Maybe This Time

Maybe This Time
Alois Hotschnig
Peirene title no. 6
Translated from Austrian German by Tess Lewis

'Without disguising himself, he went around disguised, if not from others then simply from himself.'

I'm still visibly vibrating with the chills this tiny piece of literary goodness has given me. Mega CHILLS. Full-body CHILLS. Ahem. Yes, this book was chilling, did I say that already?

I'm sure that most of you are aware of Peirene Press. They publish contemporary European novellas in English translation in a pretty breathtakingly attractive format. Each year they decide on a theme and publish novellas according to that theme. Maybe This Time is part of the Male Dilemma series though I think the dilemma, or even dilemmas, that are described in the book are not gender specific but can be experienced by anyone.

Meike Ziervogel, the founder of Peirene, says this about the collection of stories in Maybe This Time: 'I love Kafka and here we have a Kafkaesque sense of alienation - not to mention narrative experiments galore! Outwardly normal events slip into drama before they tip into horror. These oblique tales exert a fascinating hold over the reader.'

The short stories in this collection left me very unsettled. There is something strangely uncanny about each and every one. Maybe it's the pervading sense of loss and loneliness that does that. Each story starts with some degree of normality but it's never long before it slips into strangeness and then even into horror. The main running theme is identity, or rather, the loss of identity. Each individual, generally unnamed, is struggling to understand who they are and how they relate to the modern world around them.

'She ate with relish as I sat there across from her and I watched as I disappeared into her. At the same time she slowly deteriorated before my eyes.'

I can't honestly say I liked any of these stories but I definitely appreciate them. I'm not sure anyone could say that they 'like' them per se. They just don't lend themselves to a enjoyable reading experience. It's hard to explain how much I enjoyed reading them even as I'm saying that I don't think they're, much? I constantly felt like I was missing something important, like I didn't know something important and I really don't feel like I grasped the meaning of some of the stories. But, all the same, I don't think that matters. This collection gave me chills, it pulled me out of my reading slump and I look forward to discovering what else Peirene has to offer.


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