Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

Imagine that anyone could listen to your inner voice, that relentless dialogue that swings from megalomania to despair and all points in-between. How would the world alter if that soundless interior dialogue we carry on with ourselves was broadcast: a personal radio channel available to anyone who knew where to turn the dial?

Tapping into interiority, capturing the capriciousness of this inner dialogue is what Marlen Haushofer does so well in both The Wall and The Loft. Despite The Wall supposedly being Haushofer’s magnum opus, to my mind The Loft is the better novel. The Wall is a thought experiment: take one woman, one cat, one dog and a cow and make them the only creatures alive. How do they cope, physically and mentally?

The Wall is a study in minimalism and repetition, the monotonous regularity of survival and caring for animals. Thrust into a Thoreauvian environment, the narrator writes a report of this existence. What elevates Haushofer’s story from the quotidian is how well she captures internal dialogue, and how beautifully she creates realistic animal characters without ever lapsing into anthropomorphic mawkishness.

Marlen Haushofer’s The Loft

What began almost too quietly opened up into an extraordinarily powerful story, driven by beautiful writing (translated by Amanda Prantera) and a compelling narrator. Plotless, comprising a series of memories and encounters, the simplicity belies a complex and psychologically compelling story that dissects an apparently functional family with devastating force. The narration is simple, words meticulously chosen, the story develops to show how the world appears to orient itself around the Other. Ending as simply as it began, without resolution, the novel is close as you can get to immaculate.

Haushofer, who Elfriede Jelinek cites as an influence, is better remembered for The Wall which I shall be reading next.

Lerner, Haushofer and the Grumpy Publisher

The weather on Sunday was atrocious, so I spent the day reading. My early enthusiasm for Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station waned just past the halfway mark, and died all together after a truly awful recreation of the 2004 Madrid bombings, during which the solipsistic narrator wandered around using it as a handy backdrop for his increasingly turgid musings. Disappointingly, the publisher of Leaving the Atocha Station, a Twitter follower who favourited my first tweet promptly un-followed me after the second.

Though tempted to take Beckett’s next edition of letters from my shelf, I resisted and opened up Marlen Haushofer’s The Loft. I think I discovered Haushofer via flowerville, and plan to read The Wall, supposedly the Austrian writer’s magum opus: “The Wall is an existentialist masterpiece that can offer profound consolation as well as the ultimate lesson in loss”. My reaction was the reverse of reading Lerner’s début. Initially I wasn’t at all sure and read fifty pages before going to sleep. I awoke thinking about the characters, drawn to their passage through the book’s pages, and am now thoroughly engrossed, such a gently powerful story. Now to another fifty pages.