One of my highlights reading wise in 2010 was the joys of the a new publishing house that was translating short novels and novella’s that brought works from all over Europe into the English reading consciousness. This publishing house was of course Peirene Press. I was left rather breathless after reading ‘Beside The Sea’, thought ‘Stone in a Landslide’ was another beautiful book and was then impressed by the single sentence structure (which I didn’t think would be readable yet was) of ‘Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman’. So why oh why then had I left it so long to read the 4th of their collection so far ‘Next World Novella’ by Matthias Politycki? Well I am not quite sure, though it might have been to do with the fact I thought it was a dystopian surreal novella from the title (wrong assumption), yet when I wanted something short that I knew would be good it was the book that I turned to next.
It would be hard enough to find the person you have been married to and in love with for the last few decades dead over their desk one morning out of the blue, the thought that flowers in a vase had rotten and gone off leading to quite a different discovery. It would then be even worse to then find that the person you had been happily married to, or so you thought, had in fact not been so happy all along. This is the position that Hinrich Schepp finds himself in one morning at the opening of ‘Next World Novella’ as sees that his wife has been keeping her secret thoughts about him and them in the margins of the work he wrote long ago and she has been secretly editing. Rather than call a doctor, or phone for an ambulance Hinrich starts to read his work and the thoughts his wife really had and soon comes to some uncomfortable and upsetting conclusions.
This is a book that I almost found unbearably sad. Not only is it a look at people’s beliefs in death, Hinrich’s wife Doro believes death is an island surrounded by a lake you must swim through only to die once more, and death itself but how we grieve and deal with it. Add to that the uncovering of someone’s true feelings that you can no longer question or argue with and you have a highly emotional piece of writing. This is no happy tale and indeed left me with a feeling of ‘goodness we never really know what anyone thinks do we?’ which was rather depressing and yet its written with such control, minimalism and understated raw emotion it’s a compelling and masterly piece of writing all in one, in fact credit must do to the translator Anthea Bell too for managing to keep all this in, all in under 140 pages.
What to me made the book an even rarer gem was the fact that though initially Doro I dead from the start I didn’t think she would have a voice, character, or live and breathe on the pages. Yet through her notes, and as Hinrich’s past and Doro’s thoughts on it all within them come to light, her character is actually the dominating voice of ‘Next World Novella’. This I found incredible, I don’t think I have ever read a novel before where a dead character, unless relating the tale from heaven or some such, can take so much control of a piece of fiction or be such an impressive force and shadow over every page.
As gripping as it is haunting ‘Next World Novella’ is in my mind a mini-masterpiece. I can only hope that now we have one of Politycki’s novels readily available in translation in the UK that there will be many more to follow. After all he has several other books and collections of poems that we are yet to discover here yet have sold in their hundreds of thousands in his homeland of Germany. If you are to discover one new author this year then I think Matthias Politycki would be your best bet and ‘Next World Novella’ should be added to your TBR pretty soon. 9.5/10
This novella was kindly sent by the publisher.
I have been left rather breathless by ‘Next World Novella’ and I think its my second favourite of the Peirene titles so far (though the new forthcoming ‘Tomorrow Pamplona’ has recently arrived and looks good), have you read any of the Peirene books and what have you thought? Have you a favourite? I have also been left thinking about ‘Next World Novella’ for several weeks after I put it down and those are the sort of books I want to be reading much more of. So have their been any books you have read of late that have had this effect on you as I would love to read some more books like this?