Sunday 24 September 2017

To The Back of Beyond

Finished September 18
To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann

This short novel takes place in Switzerland. Thomas and Astrid have just returned from a vacation in Spain. Their two young children have been put to bed and they are enjoying a glass of wine out in their garden that evening. When one of the children demands attention it is Astrid who goes in to deal with it, and she goes on to finish the unpacking, and exhausted heads to bed.
Thomas sits for a while, watching the lights in the house change as Astrid moves through her routine. Then, instead of finishing his wine, gathering the glasses and going inside, he quietly opens the gate to the yard, and begins to walk. There is no premeditation to this action, no planning, just the impulse that pushes him forward.
The next morning, Astrid puzzles over his absence, at first thinking that he might have gone to work early. But when she finds that isn't the case, she covers for him, telling his work he is ill.  As Thomas walks on, and Astrid struggles to figure out where he is and what he is doing, the viewpoint alternates between the two characters, and the reader grows less sure of what is real and what isn't.
Astrid seems like a woman who has moved from a life of purpose to one where things happen to her. Thomas's doubt about his life and its purpose reflects a common feeling that most of us have had at one point or another.
This is a novel that invites reflection.

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