Monday, January 27, 2020

As though you were dissolving

A strange notion, said Lena, that somewhere there might be another person like me. Not just someone who looks like me and is living the same life, but who thinks and feels like me as well. I think I like the idea. It's like having a best friend who knows all there is to know about you and who you know all about, without your needing to talk about it at all. No, I said, it's as though you're not a whole person anymore, as though you were dissolving. It's an awful thing. Perhaps everyone has a doppelganger somewhere, said Lena. You were just unlucky enough to meet yours.
There's something beautifully melancholic — romantic, even — about The Sweet Indifference of the World, by Peter Stamm. (I love this title.) It reminds me of Patrick Modiano, this fog of memory and haze of longing. There's a lot of mood, and it's a challenge to decide if there's any substance to it or not.
Usually I would just sleep till noon or so. I can well remember my curious afternoons when I felt simultaneously very tired and strangely alert, that sense of having fallen out of time, and following my own irregular rhythm.
Christoph invites Lena to hear his story, how her boyfriend Chris is shadowing his life, living it over again only 20 years later. Lena is herself a double of Christoph's love, Magdalena. The life of the young couple clearly reflects that of the "original" duo, at least the broad strokes.

They're not too concerned about why or how this should happen, though it does raise some troublesome concerns about primacy and agency.

It's a great premise for a story (an otherwise essentially plotless one), and it's gently executed.

But. Maybe I've read too many women authors lately, but I had trouble connecting with this book. Christoph tells us what he's feeling, but it didn't make me feel anything.

At some point, we anticipate something physical, or at least romantic, to develop between the narrator and the younger Lena. The narrator seems to want it. And then the book becomes just another middle-aged white man exercising his privilege to relive his youth. Maybe the author feels the older Magdalena's actions balance this flaw, but this element of the book just left me feeling sad and tired.
We walked through the densely clustered stacks. The books were arranged following some inscrutable system. Lena pulled a thick volume off one of the shelves and flicked through the pages, it was a rather tattered copy of an anthology of English poetry. Did you ever write poems? she asked me. Someone once said prose writers write about the world, poets write about themselves. I said. Do you think that's true? asked Lena. I shrugged. Maybe the opposite's just as true.

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