Saturday, 27 October 2012

There Goes The Fear Again (Let It Go...)

A hearty welcome to everyone joining me from Judith's Literary Blog Hop for this special giveaway post - please visit her page for a list of all the participants :)  As German Literature Month is just around the corner, I thought I'd use today's review to promote Caroline and Lizzy's wonderful event and highlight an excellent writer too.  Last year, I read Stefan Zweig's Schachnovelle (Chess) for the first German Lit Month, and it was one of my favourite books for the year, prompting me to rush out (metaphorically...) and order Angst (Fear) - only to leave it on my shelves for the best part of a year...

I'm making up for that oversight now, and after my review, I'll be giving you the chance to get a copy for yourself.  Oh, and don't worry if your German's not quite up to scratch; those lovely people at Pushkin Press, obsessed as they are by Herr Zweig, have a lovely English-language version of Fear, and I'll be giving away one of those too :)

Angst, like Schachnovelle, is a wonderful, psychological tale.  It's a relatively short work, but right from the first words, Zweig plunges us into the world of his hapless heroine:
"Als Frau Irene Wagner die Treppe von der Wohnung ihres Geliebten hinabstieg, packte sie mit einem Male wieder jene sinnlose Angst." p.9 (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011)
"As Irene Wagner walked down the stairs from her lover's apartment, she was once again gripped by that pointless fear." ***
Irene Wagner is a wealthy married woman who has taken a lover to get out of the rut of her boring bourgeois existence, driven to the affair by the eventlessness of her life.  The thrill she initially experiences becomes the 'Angst', the 'fear', of the title, and her relationship becomes a series of brief moments of excitement and happiness, surrounded by long periods of crippling anxiety.

We enter Irene's life at a crucial point, as her world begins to crumble once she reaches the bottom of those stairs.  As she attempts to leave the building, a woman stops her, claiming to be a girlfriend that Irene's lover has cast off in favour of his new conquest.  Panicked and confused, Irene (hidden behind a veil) thrusts some money into the woman's hands and flees, hoping never to see her again.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that.  The woman somehow finds Irene's house and threatens to tell the wealthier woman's husband about what has been going on.  Irene's initial plan of brazening it out crumbles immediately under the strength of her rival's onslaught, and she agrees to keep paying her blackmailer.  As the sums begin to get higher and higher, Irene doubts that she can continue to pay for much longer without her husband becoming suspicious.  And indeed, Herr Wagner is suddenly very concerned about his wife's strange behaviour...

Angst is another brilliant book, one I can recommend to anyone.  The theme of the novella is fear itself and the incapacitating effect it can have on the human mind and body.  Having been attracted into an affair by her humdrum everyday life and the perceived glamour of such a relationship, Irene is actually ill-suited to such an existence.  As Zweig says:
"...wie die meisten Frauen, wollte sie den Künstler sehr romantisch von der Ferne und sehr gesittet im persönlichen Umgang, ein funkelndes Raubtier, aber hinter den Eisenstäben der Sitte." p.25
" most women, she wanted the artist to be romantic from a distance and very civilised up close, a sparkling predator, but behind the iron bars of manners." ***
Irene feels trapped by her unchanging, tedious, bourgeois existence, but she soon comes to realise that this is the way she is meant to live her life (in fact, after the initial excitement of the affair, it becomes just another part of her weekly routine, slotted in between her visits to friends and in-laws...).  Once the affair is discovered though, this all changes, and she begins to suffer the consequences of her betrayal.  Zweig repeatedly shows us the physical effects of the psychological strain - cold chills, electric shocks of emotion, a racing pulse, fatigue...  But what is she actually afraid of?

Her mental torture has little to do with the outside world - Irene is her own torturer, subconsciously punishing herself for her indiscretions (well, this is Vienna, after all...).  The writer constantly repeats the words 'Angst' and 'unterirdisch' ('subterranean' or 'underground'), emphasising the psychological nature of her struggle, a struggle against herself.  Even in her dreams, she can find no respite from her emotions:
"Wie zwischen Kerkerwänden, müßig und erregt, ging sie auf und nieder in ihren Zimmern; die Straße, die Welt, die ihr wirkliches Leben waren, waren ihr gesperrt, wie der Engel mit feurigem Schwert stand dort die Erpresserin mit ihrer Drohung." p.42
"As if between prison walls, idle and excited, she walked up and down in her rooms; the street, the world, which were her real life, were barred to her - like the angel with the flaming sword, her blackmailer stood there with her threat."***
Her fear prevents her from confessing the affair to her husband, but as the story progresses, we begin to wonder if that is the whole truth.  Why is she doing this to herself?  What exactly is it that Irene is so afraid of?  The answers, to these and other questions, may well surprise you.  As well as being a wonderful psychological story, Angst has a great ending :)

*** All English translations in the text have been messed up by yours truly :)

So, on to the giveaway!  I will be giving away two copies of the book reviewed above, one in the original German and one in the 2010 Pushkin Press English-language version.  If you want to enter, simply:

  - comment on this post, stating whether you want the English or German version
  - write the word 'please' somewhere in your comment; manners are important :)
  - a contact e-mail would be nice, but I will endeavour to track down the winner!
  - commenting on my review is welcome but not obligatory ;)

This competition is open to all, but please note that I will be using The Book Depository to send this prize, so it is limited to people living in countries where The Book Depository has free delivery.  Entries will close at midnight (Melbourne time) on Wednesday, the 31st of October, 2012, and I'll be announcing the winner shortly after.  Good luck to all, and may your dreams be free of fear...