I spent an afternoon browsing the Persephone bookshop (before it shut – boo hoo) and was cajoled into buying this book by the formidable owner. I’m very glad I was – it is a wonderful read.
It is a haunting account of a girl, Christine, living a painfully mundane life in 20′s Austria. When her wealthy aunt whisks her off to Switzerland she has a taste of the highlife and finds it very agreeable. Her luck doesn’t hold and her impoverished background is discovered, forcing her aunt to send her back to her former life for fear of her less-than-illustrious family hurting her own social status.
Christine finds the return to her home life unpalatable and her basis for comparison renders her unable to simply carry on her daily tasks as if others weren’t living the life she wanted.
The book changes pace as she finds herself at home in a relationship with ex-soldier Ferdinand. They both find their lives to be empty and desolate and decide to embark on a drastic path to change their lives.
”The vast power of money, mighty when you have it and even mightier when you don’t, with its divine gift of freedom and the the demonic fury it unleashes on those forced to do without it – they felt this as never before and were filled with bitter rage when, in the dark of the early morning, they saw the brightly lit windows and knew that those glowing gold curtains gave shelter and freedom to hundreds of thousands of people… it was cruel, as only the sea could be cruel – the sea in which a person can die of thirst.”
”There’s an inherent limit to the stress that any material can bear. Water has its boiling point, metals have their melting points. The elements of the spirit behave the same way. Happiness can reach a pitch so great that any further happiness can’t be felt. Pain, despair, humiliation, disgust, and fear are no different. Once the vessel is full, the world can’t add to it.”
”And when at eight in the morning Christine sat down, she was tired – tired not from something achieved and accomplished, but tired in anticipation of everything ahead, the same faces, the same questions, the same chores, the same money.”