Monique Schwitter ‘Eins Im Andern’

In this modern age, who hasn’t googled a name from their past, the narrator of this story types in Petrus’s name, the name of her first lover only to find that he had committed suicide by jumping from an eighth story window years before, she then takes from her drawer a postcard from their past and relives in her mind a moment spent with Petrus before remembering image

-On the first nIght, with the friends that brought us together with ulterior motives as they later said, sat at the kitchen table he had already announced it
-as soon as I can I’m going
-Where?
-Away
-Where?
And then he spread his arms out and laughed.***

From this first discovery on, Monique Schwitter leads us through twelve chapters, investigating different types of love and how love can come and go. I have previously reviewed Goldfish Memories, a series of short stories by Monique Schwitter in preparation for this review, which I am posting for German Literature Month, in Eins Im Andern, the stories, still often distinct, are linked together to form a whole. As is explained on the NDR website, Monique Schwitter shares a great many biographical details with the storyteller in this book, such as age, profession, some family details as well as the places they have lived.

The book has several poems, such as ‘Es ist Unsinn sagt die Vernunft‘ and a folk tale ‘the story of Undine’ at its centre. But in particular, the beautiful ‘Die Winterreise‘, (The winter Voyage) by Wilhelm Müller, put to music by Franz Schubert, which includes the title of the book and which slowly distills several lines about love coming and going.

-Die Liebe liebt das Wandern
Gott hat sie so gemacht
Von einem zu dem andern.
Fein Liebchen, gute Nacht

-Love loves to wander
God made it so
From one to another
Tender love, goodnight***

After this first love, the following loves arrive for many reasons including opportunity and infatuation, but the main reason for love going seems to be betrayal, for example from Petrus with her best friend or from the narrator herself with Phillip who then became her husband. Death is also seen as a betrayal, such as the narrator with her unborn child or her brother dying of cancer.

Following the discovery of Petrus’ death, the narrator takes us through a year of her life as she writes this book about her past intermingled with the drama unfolding around her, at first there are hints such as during the chapter on Jacob, she says:

-my husband gave me a long sweet tasting kiss, in the very moment I realised this he pulled back and looked at his cell phone screen and said: Just a second I have to take this I’ll only be a moment- and dissapeared around the corner into his room***

We then discover in a chapter about Nathanael, that her husband Philip has stolen all of their money, even his son’s savings and dilapidated it on gambling, he finds himself in a clinic whilst she is on a surreal outing with her closest friend Nathanael, looking for an ash tree. The shear size of the financial betrayal is brought home to her during a chapter on Simon, as she is aggressed in the street by “Creditor number 17”, a neighbour who had lent Phillip 3000 Euros.

As the narrator goes back to her home town on a whim, we finally revisit the original betrayal by Petrus and understand why the narrator, twenty years later cannot forgive and forget as she is faced with the choice of going back to her husband or to continue ‘wandering’.

First published in German as Eins Im Andern by Literaturverlag Droschl in 2015
*** my translation

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.

image

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