Marlen Haushofer is one of my absolute favourite authors and you cannot imagine how much it pains me that this never was translated into English. Her most famous novel, The Wall, did get translated, it got a so-so movie adaptation too, but her true strength lies in novellas and short stories. And you’re all missing out on this brilliant collection of short stories! She’s a true master of the field.
I’m tagging this “horror” as well, even though they’re technically not horror stories. They’re stories of mundane encounters or relationships, mothers and sons, old flames grown cold, married couples or strange friendships, most of the time told from female point of views and there’s often a bittersweetness to them right from the start. Then, gradually and with very few words, you realise these characters are in metaphorical hell, and you’re right there with them.
The titular story is about a mother travelling with her young son in the last few weeks of WWII, she thinks of her missing husband and how little there is to eat, before she loses everything and never recovers, despite her life returning to a societal “normal”.
What comes across as simple stories is often packed with layers of guilt, repression, abuse, not being able to cope with the past, personally but also as a society and most importantly: human cruelty. Sometimes straightforward, but more often than not on incredibly intricate levels of subtleness, yet still as destructive. I’ve compared her writing to Shirley Jackson’s in my review of We Have Always Lived In The Castle and while their styles are different and they write in different genres, they share this sense of subconsciously bleeding vulnerability and the answering cruelty in their stories.
I’m also in love with her writing style, it’s very direct and concise. Written German can be very verbose, with long, multi-clause sentences and flowery language (I know this sounds contradictory to the cliché, but it’s true) and that’s nothing bad, it can be absolutely beautiful like that. Haushofer’s writing is different though, it’s deceptively simple, but with few words she creates images, that are so much more powerful than any flowery metaphor could ever be.
Another fascinating aspect is the timelessness of her writing. She died way too young in 1970, this collection is from 1968, yet unless she specifically times the stories, they could take place today. I feel like this says a lot about the unchanging human nature and how we’re repeating patterns that came in the generations before us.
It’s not an easy book. There are lighter moments, lighter stories, but compared to her previous short story collection We Kill Stella, even those lighter moments are filled with a strange bitterness and the rest is often deep deep darkness. But I love it. Not the best read when seasonal depression hits, but I just admire this woman and the world she creates in so few pages.