Drifting Through A Dreamscape: Fleur Jaeggy’s “The Water Statues”

Although this photo is unrelated to The Water Statues (it’s actually a shot of an underwater museum off the coast of Mexico) it captures perfectly the eerie, dreamlike atmosphere of Jaeggy’s novella.  (Uncredited photo taken from the website of the touring company Aquaworld).  

Although I prefer realistic fiction and am most comfortable with a style that at least nods to tradition, I do occasionally venture further afield.  After all, dear readers, we don’t want to read Anthony Trollope all the time, do we?  Or even dear Jane, as fond as we are of Lizzie’s adventures and Anne Elliot’s romantic travails?  When I do venture to sail in unfamiliar waters (I’m afraid the nature of the book I’m about to discuss has me thinking in aquatic metaphors), it’s a struggle for me to be open to work that is totally new, particularly if it’s written in a non-traditional style.  

My immersion in the blogging world, however, has slowly, slowly, expanded my reading horizons, albeit in inverse proportion to my bank account!  This was the year, for example, that I’ve almost become comfortable reading translated literature.  Having dipped my toe into non-anglophone waters and survived, I decided to take on the ultimate challenge:  a subscription to “the New Classics Club” sponsored by New Directions publishing.  Once I did so, strange, exciting & frequently disconcerting works of fiction began arriving in my mail box on a monthly basis.  This November, for example, brought me:

Although new to me, those who are better read than I have long enjoyed Fleur Jaeggy’s fiction. New Directions has recently released this early work, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff.

For those who are interested in bio, Jaeggy was born in 1940 in Zurich, Switzerland, where she spent most of her early life.  Like many of her fellow nationals, Jaeggy is multi-lingual and grew up speaking French, German and Italian.  In her twenties she moved to Rome, where she became friends with the Austrian novelist Ingeborg Bachman.  It was in Rome that she also met, and eventually married, the Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso.  Jaeggy, who writes exclusively in Italian, has continued to live in Italy, where she has bagged most of the country’s major literary prizes.  The Water Statues, originally published in 1980, is an early work; it was in 1989, with Sweet Days of Discipline (translated by Tim Parks) that Jaeggy became widely known.  New Directions has published English translations of these as well as others of Jaeggy’s novels, essays and story collections.  In addition to writing fiction, Jaeggy has also translated the work of Thomas de Quincy and Marcel Schwob into Italian.

All very interesting, I can hear you mutter, but — what about the book?  Who are the characters, what is the plot and, most importantly, what is your opinion of it?  Ah, dear readers, it’s easier to provide questions than to supply answers regarding this enigmatic little work, whose nature and meaning are as elusive as the element contained in its title.  Jaeggy’s novel (more properly novella) clocks in at a scant eight-nine pages of generously spaced text that, technically, could be read in an hour or two.  Its impact, however, is disproportionate to its word count.  Unlike my usual way of plowing through a work of fiction, I read this one very slowly, in small bits spread over several days and stopped frequently to re-read a phrase and to savor the atmosphere.  The impression it creates remains long after the last word is read.

For a variety of reasons, The Water Statues doesn’t lend itself to an analytical discussion.  For one thing, it concerns encounters rather than events and marks time in a circular or even random, rather than linear, fashion.  Essentially its “structure” is a seamless web in which one’s point of entry or exit doesn’t matter too much.  Stylistically, TWS struck me as a hybrid of poetry and prose (some of its short sections definitely call prose poems to mind) as well as a combination of a play — Jaeggy begins with a list of nine “Dramatis Personae” and there are a few sections that consist solely of dialogue — and, well, what isn’t a play. TWS’ viewpoint continually shifts among the characters, who sometimes address the reader directly; these shifts in view and narration heighten the malleable, fragmentary nature of the reality they are experiencing.  The inclusion among the named characters of an additional individual who is never identified but who sometimes narrates or gives his/her version of events further heightens the novella’s mysterious nature.  Who is this person and what are they doing in the story?

The protagonist, to the extent there is one, is Beeklam, the rich and eccentric collector of the statues that provide the novella with its title.  Early in the novella Beeklam relates how as a child he experienced the death of his mother Thelma.  After her death (pp 8-9):

He’d abandoned his newly widowed father to go and “buy statues,” he said, and it was as if he were joking.  From early childhood he’d been drawn to figurative imitations of grief and stillness; from childhood he’d been a collector, museums were in him; statues were his playthings, a privilege of all who are born lost and who start out from where they end.  The child looked at them: he inspected eyelids and napes, drawn into their definitive dimensions of seriousness, some molded by artists of renown, others by unknown workshops.  He had a name for each:  Roselind, Diane, Magdalena, Thelma, Gertrud.  Those statutes with their often amiable faces disclosed the things that dwell in things themselves, vitreous things.

After abandoning his father, Beeklam moves to Amsterdam, where he lives, “quite alone” with his statues in the basement of a villa close to the sea.  Because the villa’s basement extends “down to the water,” its gaps and cracks give (p 8):

a sense of the movement of the waves:  of a submerged world that he [Bleeklam] believed to be populated by other statues with feet (if they still had them) tied to stones; and whose knuckles of stone knocked on his walls.  No one shooed him away when he rested his head on the wall and waited — perhaps for the statues of water to return, or to summon him.  The child now wished to live as though he’d drowned.

Although I don’t pretend to any expertise in interpreting these strange and beautiful images, it seems to me that Jaeggy is hinting that the wall between living and dead is thin and that we each long for some form of permanence in a shifting and unstable universe. In this respect, I think it’s significant that Beeklam calls one of his statues by his dead mother’s name. It’s also worth noting that Jaeggy dedicated TWS to her close friend Ingeborg Bachmann, who had died several years previously in a fire (at one point (p 22) Bleeklam remembers reading that “Water is a burnt body,” a line that further hints of themes of death and mortality.)

Emerging from his basement of statues, Beeklam wanders the streets of Amsterdam in the late spring twilight, accompanied by his servant Victor. The lives they observe at a distance and their sporadic encounters with others are their only human connections: fleeting encounters and detached observations, with no lasting effect or central meaning.

The second part of TWS concerns Katrina and Kaspar, who may, or may not, be Katrina’s father.  These “two loners” reluctantly share a pavilion on the grounds of a boarding school; “reticent in speech, they tolerate brief and stinting evening conversations” (p 44).  Images, phrases, characters and even some of Beeklam’s statues make a reappearance in this section of the novella, reinforcing its non-linear structure and the circularity of time.  As once character puts it (p 72), “One says goodbye to everything here; in places like these it’s as if all that is yet to happen were already in the past.”  

It’s impossible to quit this overly long review without briefly mentioning the beauty of Jaeggy’s language and images, all the more striking because her prose is so very economical.  Without wasting a word, or deploying any particularly lush or descriptive adjectives, Jaeggy has an unbelievable knack for creating images that stick in the mind long after her novella is finished.  A crow’s eyes are “two miniature swatches of velvet” (p 53); cabbage leaves dropped in a garden are transformed overnight into “green drawing rooms” teeming with snails (p 84); the child Beeklam has “a horror of anything hereditary, because whatever comes * * * by natural inheritance belongs to the dead” (p 38).  This particular combination of beauty and reticence is something new in my reading experience.

Have any of you, dear readers, explored Jaeggy’s fiction?  If so, what do you think of it?  Although TWS tested my limits a bit, I’m glad I read it and will definitely try more of this very interesting writer’s work (most probably I Am the Brother of XX, a collection of short stories).  Would I recommend TWS to others?  It’s definitely not for those wedded to a traditional style and a linear plot, but for those willing to tolerate ambiguity and open to atmosphere it’s an immersive and rewarding work.                                                                                                 

27 thoughts on “Drifting Through A Dreamscape: Fleur Jaeggy’s “The Water Statues”

  1. I became ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as I read your review; this sounds a strange and yet intriguing read. I’ve never come across the author before but you’re review’s piqued my interest.

    And re your comment on your reading horizons vis-a-vis your bank account, am right there with you. I dare not even look at the mountains growing in my room whilst I still struggle to cope with ebooks that I greedily applied for as review copies.


  2. Hi Mallika! Glad you stopped by, as it’s been awhile since I’ve visited the blogs (I’m now playing catch-up!). Water Statues is indeed a curious book, very dream-like; for someone of my temperament it required a fair amount of patience and persistence, despite its brevity. Much earlier in the year I read a novel by a surrealist painter (Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet), which I thought of as I wandered through Jaeggy’s novella: both have the same sort of dream-like logic and striking imagery. If you do decide to try Water Statues, I’d advise just letting your mind wander among the images and encounters, without puzzling through every detail. After a little bit, you start to see these subtle connections and begin appreciating the language. I, too, hadn’t heard of Jaeggy before this novella (a selection from my book club) but I do intend to try some of her other works, which I understand to be a bit more linear. If you’re interested, New Directions has quite a bit of info on Jaeggy and she’s been the subject of at least one New Yorker piece.
    As for the hit to the bank account — well, as far as books are concerned, I’m the living embodiment of Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist anything but temptation,” at least as regards books. Since the pandemic I’ve been on one long binge and don’t regret it one bit! The only downside is frustration that I don’t have the time/energy to get through them all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I struggle with novels like these as well, especially trying to find meaning in the structure, but I think the approach you suggest is right–allowing oneself to flow with the narrative and let its sense come to one

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, and me too, pre-lockdown, I was actually being a bit disciplined and trying not to pick up too many, but all my self control has vanished completely–I’ve bough new books, second hand books, and also lots of jigsaws which I haven’t even had the time to do (and yet have begun to look at more which are on sale). Although lately looking at the piles around my room (I still haven’t rearranged my actual bookcases to fit in everything), I am beginning to wonder again.

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      1. Mallika — I think the lockdown year was so hard on us all that we have each developed our own little self-care, nourishment routines/treats! I can’t remember if you read one of my scarce postings from early October where I discussed my trip to D.C. I spent most of my free time visiting book stores and returned with literally boxes of books, new and second hand; my car was so stuffed with them I literally had to adjust where I sat! And — it was wonderful! Good luck with your jigsaws — I’m too lazy for them and they’re too difficult for me, but I know several people who have taken them up since the pandemic struck.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks. I used to enjoy jigsaw but somehow had fallen out of the habit or rather hadn’t been able to make the time for them. But then I realised last year that I should since I enjoy them so much. I’ve piled up some good ones but haven’t had the chance to do them all.

        Yes I did see that post, and i do remember reading about the shops you visited. Glad you were able to find so many that appealed to you. I do agree about the effect lockdown has had on us. One senses an odd sort of lack of spirits as well; was just discussing with my mom how much more we used to be able to fit into our days earlier and now (especially since the last covid spell and lockdown), it seems as though one barely does a thing or two and the day is at its end.

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  3. Love the sound of this. I am also on the look out for The Hearing Trumpet. I read a great article by Heidi Sopinka in Electric Lit called 8 Old Lady Novels That Prove Life Doesn’t End at 80, where this book was listed after Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. I have read about three books on this list but now want to read the others.

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  4. Hi Gerts! Hope all is well with you down under. Many thanks for your reference to Sopinka’s article, which I immediately skimmed. Like you, I’d like to check out the entire list! Aside from Strout’s Olive and Athill’s Stet (I’m pretty resistant to memoirs, but I adored this one), I read Carrington’s Hearing Trumpet when it came out last winter. As I noted in this post, I’m a bit of a stick in the mud, so I was a little resistant for about three pages and then I loved, loved, loved it! It’s definitely worth a lookout. Do you like surrealistic art? If so, Carrington’s paintings are very, very intriguing as well.
    In your wanderings through the book world, have you come across Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good & An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed? Both are pretty light but IMO intensely enjoyable, especially if you like humor mixed with your mayhem (I do). Tursten’s Maud should be an inspiration to us all, particularly if we’d had to endure obnoxious neighbors.
    On a different note, we had an exchange awhile back on your blog about Miéville’s The City and The City. After reading the novel (I’m now a Miéville fan. It was great) I finally tracked down the BBC series and totally agree with you — the love interest angle was completely unnecessary and in fact rather weakened my enjoyment.


  5. I love Leonora Carrington. In fact Heidi Sopinka’s book The Dictionary of Animal languages has the main character based on her. I too had read the Strout and the Dianna Athill , and also the Edna O’Brien which is wonderful. In search of the others now.
    I have another massive Mieville to read over the hols; Perdido Street Station which Other Gert says is even better than The City and The City. Doing research on Helene Tursten as we speak. Thanks.

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  6. I believe that you’re more adventurous than I, although I think the reason that I like to “stay in my lane” is not because I’m resistant to other styles or writing experiences; it’s more that I have classics that I really want to read and I want to make sure I get to as many of them as I can before I leave this planet. Because I had rather a late start, I feel under the gun (although i do have a few decades left hopefully, lol!) to read as many as I can.

    That statue photo is amazing. I wonder if the water erodes their faces?? Have they preserved them somehow? I wonder …..

    Best of luck with your non-linear reading. I’ll be excited to read about your experiences!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Cleo, I’m not very adventurous at all! I’m afraid that Fleur Jaeggy would remain unread, as far as I’m concerned, had she not been the November selection of ND’s The New Classics Club! Even then, well, let’s just say that the 89 pages of generously spaced text clinched the deal. How long could it take to read 89 pages (quite awhile, as it turned out!). Even then, I really had to push myself to get past the first few pages . . . .
      It’s always a tough call, isn’t it, about where to allocate reading time/energy/interests, none of which are unlimited? I’m a big fan of re-reading (mostly, although not entirely, of classics) which makes the decisions even harder. For every time I return to Middlemarch, well — that’s several shorter novels I’ll never get to. A shame but — Middlemarch has so very much to offer; you could read it ten times and not absorb the riches. And then, there are the classics I haven’t gotten to, such as Robinson Crusoe & Tristam Shandy and various things by George Meredith to name only a few. And Willa Cather, whose virtually unknown to me. If I read those, well, there goes my time for some very exciting contemporary work, not to mention the things I read for sheer pleasure, such as sci-fi and mysteries! Then, of course, there’s literature in translation, of which I’ve read little.
      It can all be incredibly frustrating, these thoughts of so many things to explore and so little time (and, honestly, intellectual energy). It’s almost impossible to know where to draw the reading line! Exploring various book blogs in the last year or two really awakened my curiosity regarding non-anglophone and experimental writing and I’ve found it very exciting to explore both; in this particular moment my line’s been adjusted to allow some space for things I’ve ignored for most of my life; this has been done, I admit, at the expense of, to give only one example, my beloved Henry James, whom I’ve thought of making a major reading project (I barely remember some of the novels I read in my New Orleans days). That being said, I totally understand and appauld where you’ve drawn yours! And I may be there with you in a year or two.
      Love your your reviews, BTW. Have you thought about doing more Wharton? I’ve been on a bit of Wharton kick this fall, having just finished the novella collection Old New York (couldn’t believe I hadn’t read these! they’re wonderful) and Ghosts, the NYRB re-publication of short stories selected by Wharton herself. I read The Reef a few months ago and really enjoyed it; it’s not IMO the equal of House of Mirth/Age of Innocence but it’s still very, very good.


  7. Well, this sounds fasacinating! I have read one very short Jaeggy book and I loved it, though I haven’t ventured further. I do like the experiment and the translated so this sounds very much like one for me. And the analogy with Leonora Carrington makes me even keener, as I love her work to. I do have another Jaeggy somewhere which I need to dig out…


    1. Hi Kaggsy! I’m glad you found the book interesting, as it was definitely a stretch for me. I might add that reading your blog for the last couple of years has definitely “softened” me up to take such an adventurous leap, you bad influence you (LOL)! From the Ramblings to the New Directions “New Classics” subscription — a leap into unexplored territory!
      Do you remember which of Jaeggy’s works that you read? I’ll definitely try her again, in-between my Trollope & Austen.


      1. Kaggsy (I hope I hit the right reply button — technology is so challenging for me): thanks so much for the link! I just read your review of Possible Lives & am glad I didn’t before my own post, as you describe Jaeggy’s prose so much better than I. You’re absolutely right that “austere” doesn’t really describe it, as it’s far too rich and lyrical. Economical, maybe? I don’t know, but, as you pointed out, she has an amazing ability to create images & connections that linger. I notice Possible Lives BTW when I was browsing on the New Directions website & thought it looked very interesting.
        Thanks to a ND sale, I already have a copy of Sweet Days of Discipline. I suppose that, for once, I should be economical myself (been really binging on the books lately) and read that one for my next Jaeggy venture.
        I really must read Brian Dillon’s Suppose A Sentence . . . . .


  8. This does sound very intriguing and really beautifully written. She’s an author I had heard of before, but without knowing very much about her work…so I’m grateful for the introduction. As others have said, the comparisons with Leonora Carrington only add to the appeal…

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  9. Hi Jacquiwine — glad you stopped by, as your comment is making me think a bit more about Jaeggy’s Water Statues! “Intriguing” is indeed the right word for this short book. Although I’m eager to compare it with another of Jaeggy’s works (after all, this is an early piece of fiction), me being me it will probably take a year or two to get organized enough to read another Jaeggy novel!
    The writing here is indeed beautiful but in a way that was very new to me, as I’m used to associating striking imagery with rather detailed, sensuous and lyrical language (think Sunday in Ville-d’Avray). Jaeggy doesn’t do that. There’s not a extraneous or redundant word and the prose doesn’t strike me as particularly sensuous but yet, somehow, she creates these incredibly striking images and moods. I find Jaeggy’s combinaion of economical language and haunting images facasinating.
    I do hope I haven’t oversold the resemblance to Carrington! I did find there’s a strong similarity in the way both writers eschew rational sequencing in their fiction, if that makes any sense. But, as I should have noted, the emotional mood each creates is very different. Jaeggy is cool and distanced; there is to me an intimation of grief, mortality, perhaps even mourning present in Water Statues. Carrington by contrast is far less emotionally distanced and didn’t (for me at least) produce those lovely, haunting images that are everywhere in Jaeggy. In The Hearing Trumpet Carrington also demonstrates a sense of fun absurdity (which at times can actually be pretty bawdy) that’s totally lacking in Water Statues. Some similarities, many differences between two wonderful pieces of fiction, each one of which is perfect for a different mood!


  10. Fantastic review Janakay. But I am indeed too wedded to linear plots and a more traditional style. Ephemeral stuff like this just doesn’t stick with me. I have the same trouble with essays and poetry.
    I do like atmosphere and I love ambiguity in a novel, however and am all for expanding one’s reading horizons! One never knows what will appeal unless one tries. I’ve heard of New Directions before and think it is great that you are using their subscription service. I would like to do something similar with literary fiction when I retire and have more time. I think Powell’s has a program, for example and also the NYRB. I do like pushing my boundaries now and again and there is also value in reading things that aren’t exactly to my tastes. I didn’t always feel this way but I do now. There is something very satisfying when a book requires the reader to reach a little (or a lot).

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  11. Ruthiella — I’ve missed you! I’m slowly catching up with the blogging after a less than ideal fall (hopelessly behind in writing up my Challenge books, of course). In fact, I just clicked over the other day to enjoy your excellent review of H. Rider Haggard’s She. I was totally in awe that you not only finished that piece of Victorian adventure fluff, but you actually had the discipline to review it!
    I know exactly what you mean about expanding one’s horizons vis á vis reading selections. I must say that in my younger days I didn’t have the slightest interest in pushing my literary boundaries. Just the reverse, in fact, as I took a rather preverse pride in never reading translated fiction or, during a particularly obnoxious period, writers who didn’t fit squarely within “the canon,” whatever that was (of course, secretly, I was devouring fantasy & sci-fi; I just didn’t let my friends see the covers). With time, and greater leisure, I’ve become more experimental. Reading the blogs has been instrumental here, as it made me begin to realize the riches that I was missing. And, of course, a “book club” type subscription, while self-indulgent, does help quite a bit — there’s the guilt of leaving the monthly selection unread combined with the fact that you’re presented with an easy decision about what to read to push those mental boundaries just a bit further out (I must confess, however, that I frequently don’t get around to reading the monthly selections for a very, very long time. Also some of them have left me at least somewhat baffled!). I’m not suprised Powell’s has a subscription program, as it seems to have everything. The NYRB Classics, which you mention, is great — heavy on translations, which is fine, but with lots of overlooked & half-forgotten American and British writers as well. And — the books are beautiful.
    Although I have very much expanding my reading selections, howevr, I have tended to come back to fiction that is grounded in realism, with a style that (as I said in my post) at least nods to tradition. Have you gotten around to Damon Galgut’s The Promise? I thought it a tremendous achievement, with some wonderful stylistic innovations (shifting POVs, sometimes within a paragraph; touches of magic realism/fantasy & at times strange juxtapositions and direct addresses to the reader); but, at bottom, definitely nodding to tradition (IMO at least). I loved it.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the review. This has been a great reading year for me, which is wonderful after the horror of last year (although 2020 was the year I finally started getting hooked on novellas and shorter work, which were all my fractured concentration could handle). On the other hand, it’s been a terrible year for my actually writing about some of my discoveries (Jean Stafford! Clarice Lispector! Bowen’s Eva Trout! things I hadn’t previously noticed in James’ Bostonians!). Oh, well, that’s what next year is for . . . .


    1. Hi Janakay. I did read The Promise. I thought it was brilliant and while, as you point out, it had touches of the fantastical, it worked for me 100%. I also thought it was very subtle with its central premise of “the promise”. By the end I was really questioning whether it was all worth it, which is an unanswerable question, but it is books that make me think like that that I often like best.

      I do like books that full on embrace the fantastical sometimes. I just finished The Satanic Verses by Rushdie a couple of weeks ago and appreciated it much more than I did Midnight’s Children many years ago because (a) I had an idea of what to expect and (b) I accepted that I would not “get” it all. I can’t read too many of this kind of book in a row, but one or two per year is often a satisfying mental exercise.

      Happy Holidays!


      1. Ruthiella: Happy Holidays! (one benefit of my slow response time–I get to send you good holiday wishes). Wasn’t The Promise wonderful? I think it’s one of the best things I’ve read in several years. I don’t often get emotionally wrapped up in the Booker Prize but I was really rooting for Galgut this year. I really think this one might turn out to be a lasting masterpiece.
        Aside from everything else it offered, I loved the novel’s incredible style. As you point out, it had just enought magical/fantastical elements to enrich the story, but not so many that it detracted from the overall effect. In fact, I thought the fantastical touches were almost “realistic” in a strange way, in that “ordinary life” is (to me at least) frequently full of these little touches of the extraordinary/unexplained. On the other hand, it could be that my upbringing was too, too southern gothic (and I did read a lot of Flannery O’Connor at a very impressible age!)
        I am most impressed with your venture into Rushdie territory. I tried Midnight’s Children a few years back and couldn’t do it; to my shame, I’ve read NOTHING by this writer. I am determined to do so, but keep putting it off. On my next attempt, I may go with a different choice, perhaps following your lead with Satanic Verses
        In these lazy holidays I’m trying to talk myself into posting a review (actually got started on Bennett’s Old Wives Tale) but — I keep getting distracted by new books! The latest is The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, which received a glowing review from the NYT. It didn’t seem quite my thing, but I was restless and decided to try it. Verdict? Fabulous! A mix of genres, including sci-fi, which I know you read, engrossing characters, clever plot and lots of references to literature, art, physics (missed almost all of these) combined with a very engaging style. And it’s very, very funny at times, with elements of social satire and a keen eye for pretension. I loved it and will be interested to see if it catches on here (it was a best seller in France).
        Well, that’s it for “Boxing Day” as our British friends call this day after the big holiday (I tend to think of it as “let’s go to the mall and exhange our Christmas presents” day). Stay well and keep those wonderful reviews coming.

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  12. Hi Annabel! I, too, had not heard of Jaeggy until I started looking at New Directions press, largely thanks to Kaggsy’s & Lizzie’s Reading Independent Publishers month earlier this year (isn’t blogging great for these kinds of discoveries?). Once she was on my radar, so to speak, I started noticing references/discussion of her work in a suprising number of places (the New Yorker, for example, seems very fond of her fiction).
    If you like experimental fiction, this may be for you. I had to struggle a bit, because I do like my straightforward, linear plots, but once I decided to just go with the flow and not puzzle every image or section I really got into this strange, elusive work. Being novella length definitely helped.
    I’m afraid that I agree with you that the novella’s cover is not well chosen. As I think I mentioned in my post, Jaeggy dedicated the work to her very dear friend, Ingeborg Bachmann, who had died a few years previously in a fire. One of the reviews I looked at quoted some lines from Bachmann’s Malina (a novel I’ve not yet read; also a New Directions publication), which mentions “a single tear” gathering in the eye. Although I’m guessing on this, I rather think the cover artist may have had this in mind (or not! The cover doesn’t literally correspond with Bachmann’s image as it shows several tears). Regardless, I do wish that inspiration had taken a different form!


  13. I’ve not read her, but I can share in your enthusiasm for New Directions. Whenever I discover that a book is one of theirs, I’m even more interested. And I can also share your enthusiasm regarding narratives that reward a second, more dedicated glance. Even though I was raised with very traditional narrative arcs, and though the bulk of my reading life has extended that habit (and brought me much satisfaction too, along the way), I have come to appreciate less conventional structures and intents. For me, it’s like any other muscle, the more I exercise it, the more I am keen to try. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your subscription!

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    1. New Directions IS wonderful, isn’t it? Somewhat along the same lines, but even more experimental is Sublunary Press; have you found it yet? I discovered both (along with several other independent publishers) only after I began blogging and reading others’ blogs. The indy publishers, along with the blogs, have tremendously expanded my reading universe. For many, many years I primarily read non-fiction, with occasional dips into 19th & early 20th century classics. Although I gradually switched almost exclusively to fiction for a variety of reasons (and expanded my reading choices to include much more contemporary work), like you I found the most satisfaction in works whose structures owed much to tradition. Also like you, I’ve developed a greater willingness to experiment in this regard! (As you say, it’s a lot like developing an exercise habit) The offerings from the smaller publishers are wonderful for this; I’m so grateful that I’ve found at least a few of them!

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      1. Sublunary does look great: thanks for drawing it to my attention. Just the kind of site that I could imagine buying from in excess. I love the sense of “discovering” a carefully curated imprint, feeling like the ones that I hadn’t heard of were suddenly just as interesting as the one/two that I’d gone in search of. Such a great feeling. Although, of course, the TBR numbers do cross the line into being impossible, before long. #niceproblemtohave As you say, chatting with other readers is a great way to broaden your awareness. The ‘net has been awesome for that.

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