Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig, a highly-acclaimed Austrian writer, is something of an anomaly in the Peirene Press series, being a collection of nine short stories rather than a novella. The stories themselves have a surreal, Kafka-esque feeling of disquiet about them, being opaque and confusing like dreams with enough of a grounding in reality to make them enormously affecting. Thematically, we have voyeurism, alienation, loss of identity and great lashings of that insidious feeling of looking at a scene or hearing a story and feeling somewhere low down in your gut that all is not fine. Narratively, we have a man obsessed with his neighbours, a man who wakes up and doesn't know who he is, recounted town scenes that bely a recent tragedy, a frighteningly realised encounter between insects, and a man, in the final story, whose identity seems to alter and shuffle like an ace through a pack of cards.
In short, I loved them. Nothing pleases me more than left-field, open-ended fiction that leaves me wistful and worried for the characters' future and leaves me with few reassurances. I mean, doesn't that sound like life? Or maybe I spent too long studying East Asian cinema, lol. But I found these bizarre and alarming stories utterly refreshing, and at times, grotesquely hilarious. This quote is from Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut, where a man comes face-to-face with a woman and the dolls she keeps, one of whom looks just like him:
My name is Karl, I said, but the woman didn't answer. I didn't know how to handle the situation or how to deal with my new friend - a friend I was obviously starting to accept.That is the doll they're talking about, FYI. One thing that really struck me about this short story collection is how easy it is to read: one might presume that high literature will be a slower read than the lighter stuff, but this I swallowed down very easily indeed. It was a delight, in fact.
He's not a bad kid, she said. Peculiar, yes, but you already knew that and, let's face it, you're all he's got. And he's been waiting ever since you abandoned him. That's when he came to me. He can't talk to you about it, at least not yet. But things will work out now you've finally come back. And now I'll leave the two of you alone, she said, and stood up and left the room.
Otherwise, I have little to say, most likely because with a collection of stories it is harder to pinpoint and single out trends and details, so my sum thoughts are that this book is brilliant, undoubtedly my favourite of the 'Male Dilemma: Quests for Intimacy' series, and that this would be the perfect intelligent, unsettling read to while an hour away with over a big coffee. And it's quietly terrifying, so I'll get back to you about the nightmares.
Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (mine) ¦ (Sam's)
Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal (mine) ¦(Sam's)
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (mine) ¦ (Sam's)
Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (mine) ¦ (Sam's)
Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen (mine) ¦ (Sam's)
Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Alois Hotschnig, translated from the Austrian German by Tess Lewis
Date: Original 2006, translation 2011
Format: Paperback, 107 pages, and I was sent it by Peirene Press for review as part of this readathon series.