Monique Schwitter ‘Goldfish Memories’

Monique Switter made it onto the Buch Preis long list with ‘Eins im Andern’ this year which I will try to finish for German Lit Month, so in the mean time to get acquainted with her I have read Goldfish Memories, a series of short stories first published as ‘Goldfischgedächtnis’ in 2011.

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This collection of stories, whether from the title story ‘Goldfish Memories’ dealing with having a drunken father or the excellent ‘The Pit’ dealing with an ageing actress who had memorised, unable to forget, so many roles and now due to ill health finds her memories being erased, or from ‘A Tendency Towards Nothing’ with a random meeting leading to monthly silent gambling outings  is faithful to its title Goldfish Memories, stories that are a collection of jerky sound bites as if rediscovering the world at each tour of the bowl.

A theme running through the book, again a part of a goldfish memory, is a study of nothingness: in ‘The Pitt’ the actress finally remembers a line:

-But whate’er I be, Nor I nor any man that but man is With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased With being nothing.

In ‘A Tendency Towards Nothing’ the title is illustrated by Döblin ‘Nothingness is the material which holds, and does not hold, the things of this world in balance.’ In ‘Haiku and Horror’ this discussion between the journalist and the writer illustrates this theme:

-What are you reading at the moment?
-Nothing. I watch films.
-You’re not reading anything?
-Nothing of consequence.
-That makes me curious!’

The words nothing or nothingness are ever present (74 times throughout the volume).

The staccato rhythm given to these stories by the writing method, where often the protagonists are the goldfish but where it is the reader who is mostly given the impression that he rediscovers something about the story with each ‘sound bite’, enhances the interest and makes this volume of short stories a compelling read.

First published in German as Goldfischgedächtnis by Literaturverlag Droschl in 2011
Translated into English by Eluned Gramich and published by Parthian in 2015

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