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Kleist, Moos, Fasane by Ilse Aichinger
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Kleist, Moos, Fasane (1987)

by Ilse Aichinger

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I picked Kleist, Moos, Fasane off the shelf largely because of its intriguing title, without any clear idea of where it fits in Aichinger's work, and was immediately sucked in by the opening story, in which she looks back at her early childhood in her grandmother's kitchen in Vienna, in the years before the Nazis came to power, when she could still go to school like any normal little girl. Die Kräfte der Kindheit hielten die Welt zusammen. Und die Küche meiner Großmutter lag mitten darinnen. And she reflects on the arbitrariness of connections that only have meaning for the people who happen to have experienced them, like gym, needlework and singing (the three possibilities of afternoon school) or Kleist, Moss and Pheasants, which happened to be the names of three streets in the neighbourhood. Magnificent writing, in which everything is coloured by the grief we know is coming next, but nothing is twee or sentimental.

The book is in three sections, put together slightly arbitrarily (like Kleist, Moss and Pheasants). In the first part are half a dozen autobiographical short stories written between 1959 and 1982. In the second part are thirty years worth of notes from the author's diaries - sometimes a year gets a few pages, sometimes nothing. 1965 is represented by only one sentence: Einsicht bei Tageslicht, eine Hasengruppe. (Something like: "Insight by daylight, a playgroup."). Not all of them are so gnomic, and reading through them in sequence you can really start to make sense of Aichinger's growing doubts about the expressive possibilities of language.

In the third part of the book we get several essays about writers and writing. There's a hurried, but clearly very deeply felt, obituary tribute to Thomas Bernhard (added in the 1989 2nd edition), there are her thoughts on Adalbert Stifter and Georg Trakl, and there are tributes to Nelly Sachs and Franz Kafka in her acceptance speeches for their respective prizes - the Kafka piece is a wonderfully Kafkaesque conceit in which she describes how she once read a single sentence from one of Kafka's letters which filled her with a "strong dark happiness" that scared her so much that she never dared to read anything else he wrote.

A somewhat random taster, but definitely yet another writer I need to explore further. ( )
1 vote thorold | Sep 18, 2016 |
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