Pushkin Press (2013)
Translated by Anthea Bell
Translation Challenge #11
'The horror had now moved into her home and would not stir from its rooms.'
Stefan Zweig is a name I have been noticing more and more frequently in bookshops. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I had no idea who he was and knew nothing about him apart from the fact that seemed to be prolific. According to Wikipedia (font of knowledge) he was pretty famous. Having devoured Fear in no time at all, I can see why.
Fear was first brought to my attention by Lindsay in her review back in May. The subject really intrigued me and I'm glad it stayed in my mind long enough for me to pick up a copy (hello you beauty from Pushkin Press).
Irene Wagner is a bourgeois wife and mother, bored with her mundane existence. She begins an affair with a young pianist but, upon leaving his apartment one day, she bumps into his former lover who begins to blackmail her.
Considering the concept of blackmailing an adulterer/adulteress is rather familiar nowadays, Zweig has this incomparable skill for creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that makes the subject completely terrifying. Irene's fear of being found out is palpable to the point that it made me tense. As a reader I did not feel like I was outside the novel but rather within it and sharing in Irene's terror. Skills.
Fear is a study of relationships and the games people will play in relationships. The twist towards the end revealed how much of an emphasis is actually put on gender relationships (particularly gendered power relationships). It reminds me of two other books I have read this year (both also on the Translation Challenge coincidentally) - Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary - in its treatment of women doing 'wrong' in romantic/sexual relationships and the lengths they will go to to avoid the consequences. What I find most distressing is that death seems to be the only way out for such women. All three female protagonists consider suicide to be the better option than dealing with the shame and scandal that comes with being aware of their own sexual wants. Even when knowing that these women are all products of their society and culture, I find the idea of death as an escape from shame immensely depressing.
Zweig was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and I think that is noticeable in the novel. If you are a fan of psychological, Freudian literature, I would strongly recommend breezing through this very short novel. It is twisted, affecting and more than a little disturbing. I could say so much more about it but I won't, because I think you should all read it and see for yourself.
''Do you think it's...it's always just fear that...that keeps people from speaking out? Couldn't it be...well, couldn't it be shame?''