Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 26, 2012

Alice (2011), by Judith Hermann, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo

Image Alice (Hermann)I came across Alice, by the German author Judith Hermann, because it has been longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.   It’s a series of five interlinked short stories forming a novella-of-sorts, each one meditating on the experiences of Alice as she deals with the deaths of people close to her.

As such, it’s well done.  The translation by Margot Bettauer Dembo is good, and the stories integrate well together.  There is an authenticity about the situations in which we find Alice: being there for her friend Maja when her husband Misha is dying, a gesture all the more remarkable because Alice was once Misha’s lover.  Getting irritable with a Romanian driver en route to a friend who dies unexpectedly in Italy.  Seeking out the partner of a homosexual uncle who died before she was born, coming to terms with the fact that one never can know why someone chooses suicide.  Waiting with a friend for the inevitable death of her husband.  Finally her current partner dies, and she stumbles through the days, clearing out his things, selling his car, seeing him everywhere and nowhere.

The narration is remote, calm and observant.  There is a lot of detail which highlights the ordinariness of life even when one is dealing with the extraordinary emotions of grieving.  Everything seems suppressed.

The thing is, how much does one want to meditate on grief and loss?

The answer for me was, not very much.

I didn’t feel that this book had very much to offer.  There are no great insights, just the depiction of common experience. I doubt if it would offer solace to anyone bereaved – it’s too detached, implying that to howl in anguished grief would be bad-mannered or immature.  It illuminates a human condition, but that’s not enough, in my opinion, to warrant nomination for a major prize.

Just not my kind of book, I guess.

Author: Judith Hermann
Title: Alice
Translator: Margot Bettauer Dembo
Publisher: The Clerkenwell Press, 2011
ISBN: 9781846685293
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Alice


  1. Hmm. Just about to start this one. I think.


    • *chuckle* Cheer up, at least it’s not very long…


  2. I ve just posted on alice as well Lisa my feeling same as you I really didn’t get this one Alice came off as one dimensional ,the fiorst three stories nearly same story ,her writng is great just didn’t work here she has a lovely eye for detail but not build a character ,all the best stu


  3. general consensus on this book seems to be mnaah, why bother!


    • Well, yes, Stu and Gary – but why then was it longlisted? What have the judges seen in it that has escaped me?


  4. Hi, having not read it, I can’t really say, beyond conspiracy theories, such has she been missed before, but that accusation could easily bee thrown at Sjón who was listed before with Blue Fox Although I do think he deserves to be there as From the mouth of the whale is fantastic story & translation.


    • Oooh, I do like a good conspiracy theory!


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: