Stuff and Nonsense: The Wall


8.29.2014

The Wall


Baffled, I stretched out my hand and touched something smooth and cool: a smooth, cool resistance where there could be nothing but air. I tentatively tried again, and once more my hand rested on something like a window-pane. The I heard a loud knocking sound and glanced around before realizing that it was my own heartbeat thundering in my ears. My heart had been frightened before I knew anything about it.
While staying with friends at their hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps, an unnamed forty-something woman awakens to find that her valley is encircled by a vast, invisible wall. She and the animals within it may be the only living beings left on earth.

Stunning. The Wall is once both a quietly beautiful domestic novel and a dark, wrenching novel about loneliness and solitude. When I began reading the novel, I immediately accepted the unnamed narrator's assumption that she was alone and would remain without human companionship for some time, if not forever. I became thoroughly wrapped up her domestic dramas -- making a habitable home for herself and the animals, securing enough food for them, and staving off depression as lack of skill and mental fatigue chipped away at her physical and mental strength.

But, despite all her domestic success and (grudging) survival, a terrible tension began to grow in me. There was an edge of darkness to every success, a faint whisper of some as-yet-undescribed awfulness. I didn't want to put down The Wall, yet I also wanted desperately to close my eyes to what felt like an inevitable horror. The line "Someone might come up to the window, looking like a man and hiding an ax behind his back" gave me nightmares for days and that's only 42 pages into The Wall! I ended up reading the novel in seasonal chunks, always during the daylight hours, when my imagination couldn't run too far ahead of me.

And, of course, when the disaster occurs, it occurs in the blink of an eye. There is no lead-up, no foreknowledge. Just that terrible thing. And that's life, after all. Terrible things happen and we do our best to survive them for the little time we have.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Wall and look forward to watching the 2012 German film adaptation. I simply wish Haushofer had written more. I've read a lot of human-at-the-end-of-the-world/trapped-in-bubbles type stories, but this was the first that felt thoroughly real.

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer w/ trans. by Shaun Whiteside (Cleis Press, 1990)

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