What two people can make of the same view

Dear Elizabeth, In your novel A View from the Harbour (1947), we are sea watchers, guided by a faint beam. It feels very much as if we were inside a lighthouse, following the light as it shifts from one character to another. The novel centres around the inhabitants of a small seaside town in England…

Beautiful flying things

Dear Carole, In Ava (1993), you throw us inside the mind of a dying woman. We are there, minute by minute, while it all happens. However, we cannot see anything very clearly – we can only follow its rhythm. Rather than a linear collection of images flashing before our eyes, the novel reads more like…

Trust is fine, but control is better

Dear Elfriede, Your novel The Piano Teacher, tr. Joachim Neugroschel (1988. Die Klavierspielerin, 1983) is vile and uncompromising: it dwells on the grotesque, crossed by an undercurrent of violence that, by striping everything of fineries and superficial niceties, almost acts as a cleansing element. The novel centres around Erika Kohut (Erika K.), a piano teacher…

Nothing holds the wind back from its wings

Dear Anna, Moving back and forth between early modern Italy and Nazi-occupied Florence, your book Artemisia, tr. Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo (2003. Original: Artemisia, 1947) unfolds as in a game of hide-and-seek: we are constantly drawn out of your protagonist and into your narrator; out of your narrator and into yourself as an author – and then…

To disentangle true from false

Dear Delphine, Based on a True Story (2017, tr. George Miller. Original: D’aprés une histoire vraie, 2015) is an atmospheric book that revolves around a woman who may or may not have been taken hostage by another – and by her readers. The narrator is a middle-aged woman who lives in Paris with her two…

Memories lie slumbering within us

Dear Winfried, The Rings of Saturn (tr. Michael Hulse, 1998. Original: Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt, 1995) is beautiful, and melancholy, and strange. It is this paradox: a journey that can only be made in solitude; but, at the same time, one that can only happen in a relation between author and reader. The…

All we see is a haze

Dear Carol, As if under the muffled atmosphere of a tense game, the storyline of Sinuca embaixo d’água (2009, ‘Underwater snooker’, not translated yet) circumscribes an absence: the white ball that moves the others and drives the game forward. Antonia, the main character, is at the heart of the story but never directly shows up…

I was giving the glad-eye like blazes

Dear Connie, The Laws (1993, tr. Richard Huijing. De Wetten, 1991) reads like a draft of a draft: the shadow of an idea, hovering over the page without ever really taking off. The novel is set in the 1980’s and centres around Marie Deniet, an Amsterdam-based student who sets out in search of ‘the laws’…

Marriage had been shockingly debased

Dear Amantine, In a strange way, your novel Valentine (1832) made me feel at home. Not a home I currently inhabit, nor a place where I am particularly inclined to come back any time soon, but my first literary home: the books I used to read as a child; tragic stories, full of impassionate heroes who…

Like a gifted mathematician set to paint a picture

Dear Dorothy, The Home-Maker (1924) does a good job at portraying a situation where people are forced into restrictive roles not only by external expectations and social pressure, but also by their own internalised beliefs of what is expected of them. Set in the early twentieth century in small town America, the book centres around…

There was always a wind blowing

Dear Monica, Do you know this feeling of slowly being enveloped by coldness? Like at the end of a sunny day: with the faint memory of the sun on our skin, we are caught unawares by the first wind. That’s more or less how your novel The Winds of Heaven (1955) feels like: as an…

Flesh is a function of enchantment

Dear Angela, While reading your novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), I could not stop thinking to myself: this must be how it feels to go through a reverse out-of-body experience. My mind is there with you, catching the references, the twisted sense of humour, the symbolic spins, the sharp satire, and all that;…