Friday, November 12, 2010


Rock Crystal, by Adalbert Stifter, reads like a fairy tale. Once upon a time, two children set out across the mountain to visit their grandmother. On their way home, it snows, and they get lost.

Simple, right? Well, it's Christmas Eve, and combined with the whiteness of the snow and the blueness of the ice and the innocence of the children, the story takes a near mystical turn.

The fairy tale setup had me in a state of high suspense for the appearance of some great lurking evil. But I won't tell you what happens.

Eventually, the sun comes up:

A gigantic blood-red disc climbed the heavens above the sky-line and at the same instant the snow all around flushed as though bestrewn with thousands of roses.

There's so much more to Rock Crystal than beautiful landscapes. There's more to the quaint histories of the picturesque villages — so near each other yet worlds apart — that nestle there. Nature is both enemy and saviour. The children are victims and also agents.

I look forward to that part of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain (an ongoing read) — Hans lost in a snowstorm — which pays homage to this work.

Review: New York Sun.

This book has secured a place on my (very short) list of fine Christmas stories without sentimental treacle.

I almost wish I'd saved this slim novella for one of those snow-blanketed evenings I'm sure aren't too far off. I suspect I'll be reading it again when those still days are upon us.

NYRB Reading Week continues at Coffeespoons and The Literary Stew.

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