Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 9, 2012

Next World Novella (2011), by Matthias Politycki, translated by Anthea Bell

Next World Novella 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!

Other reviews

Caribou’s Mum
Iris on Books
The Independent
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
ISBN: 9780956284037
Source: Personal library

Fishpond: Next World Novella


  1. I m pleased you like this one it touched me when I read it ,and froma quick chat on twitter one evening with Matthias I would say he is a funny guy in real life and also a real ale fan ,all the best stu


    • LOL Stu, what is it with you blokes and ‘the ale’?! I visited your blog to re-read your review and discovered a thriving conversation in Comments about this author and his taste for ale!!


  2. I agree with Stu that I found this book very moving. But it also has a very wry sense of humour. It seems you enjoyed this, of which I am glad. I think it is one of my favourite Peirene’s.


    • Yes, that bit where it dawns on him that death is irrevocable, and what he wants to say has to remain forever unsaid is very sad. It’s a bit of a wake-up call for us all to talk properly with our loved ones and not take them for granted, but it is not sentimental at all. (Far from it, eh?)


  3. Glad you enjoyed this one, Lisa. I met the author last year at a reading in London and he was delightful to chat to; quite self-deprecating.


    • So he speaks English too? That would help with the translation too, I guess…


      • That came up during the Q&A session, but if I remember correctly he said he doesn’t touch the translation or get involved — he prefers to leave that to the experts. (Funnily enough, having gone to quite a few of these ‘translated fiction’ readings in the past couple of years, pretty much all the writers, even if they can speak/read/write English, don’t get involved in the translation. I suspect it may be unprofessional to tell a translator how to do their job? Or maybe they’ve lived through writing the book once, they don’t want to have to do it again?)


        • Watched Stephen Fry on Literature last night, talking about translating Shakespeare into Chinese. Now *that* would be a major headache!


  4. An excellent book :) I read this twice last year, and I loved it (though not everyone likes the ending…). I’d love this to make the shortlist – in a perfect world…


    • Twice! I can see why though, I reckon I probably missed things on a first reading…


  5. There’s a lot which becomes clearer on a second reading – it’s really meantto be reread :)


  6. This one sounds like one for me, up my alley. I like humorous novels.


    • I do too, as long as it’s not overdone.


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: