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"You write on a board that you have taken from a building site, sitting up in bed, while your husband works at his desk." (p. 8)
That is how Die Tiere von Paris (The Animals of Paris) begins. In Paris. In a small room in which two lovers are engaged in free-lance scientific work. The hierarchy is displayed from the beginning. She would only have had to take a closer look. Du, you, would only have had to do so. The use of the pronoun Du, the familiar form of address, throughout the book, is not just an original move. The form shows that this woman could be replaced by any other: the same thing could also happen to you.
The man admits that he has recently become a father. He deceived her a year earlier. She does not want to be narrow-minded and does not consider separation, because after all, he assures her, he did not love this other woman, but she took him for a ride. When she becomes pregnant herself they move to Vienna. At first she is the one who looks after the baby and has to stop working. He tells her they will sort things out later. But the division of labour which would mean so much to her does not take place later, or rather does not happen in a way that would benefit her.
The less acknowledgement she gets, the less scientific work she publishes, the more shaprly her self-esteem drops. She soon adopts his view herself, namely that she is inflexible, absent-minded and tensed up. And yet a spark of anxiety tells her that she must not give up. She begins to fight for her autonomy.
Margit Schreiner remains true to her themes. Without getting excited, she perseveres in writing against the oppression of women and mothers and the way they are kept down in all areas of society. It is not by chance that her language is perceived as being ‘soft-spoken’. Nevertheless it never loses its lightness, because it always contains one important element: humour.
Almost incidentally, skilfully and without indulging in direct criticism, Margit Schreiner touches on sociopolitical topics like the care, welfare and custody of children and young people, the situation of single parents, the housing market, youth unemployment, health insurance, the pension system, social and ethnic injustice, neo-liberalism – a full list would be long indeed.
It is against this background that the author presents a gloomy scenario at the end of the book: the daughter, who remains nameless, takes the part of Barblin in a school performance of Max Frisch’s play Andorra, a character who falls prey to madness because she cannot endure the struggle between two peoples, the lies, hatred and aggression. On the day of the sixth performance the daughter has disappeared without trace.
Abridged version of a review by Claudia Peer, September 2011. English translation by Leigh H. Bailey.
Full German text: http://www.literaturhaus.at/index.php?id=9189
[ book info ] Schreiner, Margit: Die Tiere von Paris.
(Book language: Deutsch)
Schöffling & Co,
ISBN: 978 978-3-89561-279-4.
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