1924, Bad Fusch in Pinzgau. Walter Kappacher’s protagonist, “H.” is a writer in a health crisis and in a creative crisis. “H.” – which stands for the writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) – realizes that he no longer has the concentration or stamina to end the projects he begins. He can only jot down and arrange ideas. And he starts to doubt whether his talent actually meets his standards.
Kappacher’s Hofmannsthal is a “returnee" neither fully in the new era, the post-war period, nor in his past, who feels neither safe nor at home in Bad Fusch, a summer resort he often visited as a youth and as a young man, alone and with his parents. The last time was in 1919. Five years later he recognizes very little. Is this then a study of the past? A book about futility, a biographical writer’s novel?
Walter Kappacher has not drawn a psychological portrait à la Stefan Zweig. His work centers on the tragedy of the early onset of an author’s physical and creative decline, an author no longer willing to be equal to the latest age in a new, much smaller Austria; an age he finds loud, impolite, badly dressed and inattentive. It is also a report of accumulated losses: the loss of a state, the loss of literary imagination – after all it was in Fusch that young Hofmannsthal once achieved some of his grandest and most meaningful poems – and a report of beginning isolation due to the loss of friends. Only one thing is missing: the step across the threshold of life.
The talks between Hofmannsthal and a young, fictional, doctor are not dialogues, but rather monologues running parallel to one another. Place and nature mirror H.’s condition and situation. New buildings are being constructed, houses are close together. The slope which was once covered with trees is now, a sign of the crisis, almost completely deforested, the “steep forest path to the North lay open”.
Many of Kappacher’s associations and trains of thought reveal his extraordinarily subtle decency. Never does he denounce his protagonist, searching for his long-ago self. A tranquil, sad, superbly written book.
Review by Alexander Kluy, June 2009.
English translation by Laura Radosh.
Complete version: http://www.literaturhaus.at/index.php?id=7404