This is another novella longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and it’s a masterly example of the form. The theme is the disintegration of a marriage, but the plot and structure make it quite different to anything I’ve read before.
Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki is a clever title: it plays on Doro the wife’s preoccupation with the afterworld and Hinrich the husband’s alternate world, the one he plays around in when he’s not at home. There is also a fictional world of male fantasy, because although Hinrich is a mediocre Sinologist who writes academic stuff, he’s also ventured into the world of fiction.
His little novel is so forgettable that he forgets about it himself. It stays unfinished and untouched in an obscure drawer somewhere in the house. Or so he thinks, until the morning he wakes up to find that Doro has died – quite some time ago, it would seem – and was editing this little novel just before she died. And Doro is not the placid, complacent handmaiden to his ‘genius’ that he thought she was…
All this is revealed in a macabre narrative that alternates between scraps of Hinrich’s novel and a detached narrator’s rather wry observations of Hinrich’s grisly attempts to deal with Doro’s body while he reads the papers she’d been working on. These papers reveal that this marriage was not what it seemed. Like many an oblivious partner, Hinrich in his self-absorption has failed to notice all kinds of aspects of his wife, and his reaction is rather amusing. The irony is that since he had an operation to improve his always very poor eyesight, he has been blind to his own behaviour. Even when the betrayer is betrayed, it doesn’t seem as if Politycki is much interested in engaging the reader’s sympathy for his character!
I haven’t read much in the way of contemporary German fiction, and all of what I had read was serious in tone, so it was interesting to discover a German author with a playful sense of humour, albeit black humour!
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For reviews from the rest of the Shadow Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Team, click here.
Author: Matthias Politycki
Title: Next World Novella
Translated by Anthea Bell
Publisher: Peirene Press, 2011
Source: Personal library, purchased from The Book Depository, $13.16