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Agnes Hardcover – April 17, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 165 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (April 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747547521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747547525
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 4.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,891,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There is that wonderful Escher lithograph of a hand drawing a hand drawing a hand. The Swiss writer Peter Stamm does something similar in his first novella, AGNES. We have an unnamed Swiss author, a would-be novelist with writer's block, living for a while in Chicago while researching a book on American luxury trains. In the library, he meets a much younger research student named Agnes, a crystallographer and amateur cellist, who eventually moves in with him. Agnes suggests that he write a story about her, about them, and he begins to do so. At first, this is a game, a kind of foreplay: he writes a paragraph about the dress that Agnes will change into when she gets home, what they will do together, when he will take it off; she reads the what he has written and follows his cues.

But while Escher's hands are inexorably linked in the plane of the paper, Stamm takes care to give Agnes an independent existence also. She has her music and her own friends. Things happen between them that are not prefigured in the written story, and soon the writer is trying to write alternate outcomes to events that have overtaken his control over them. The surreal linkage of author and subject would be interesting up to a point, but Stamm's dialogue between real life and the written-out constructs of fiction is even more fascinating. It is a wonderful metaphor for those relationships where one is torn between accepting the loved one for what she is and the desire to make her fit into some ideal vision of her. It also parallels the fiction writer's dilemma of exerting control over his material only at the risk of squeezing the life out of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on August 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"...You wanted me to write it that way." I said, "we wrote it together."

Yes, Agnes had wanted her lover to write her life story, but, until now she had not warned him how stories can influence her thinking and behaviour. The novel's opening sentences suggest that much in very short blunt sentences: "Agnes is dead. Killed by a story. All that's left of her now is this story." He, the nameless narrator, a Swiss author staying in Chicago for research for a glossy book on luxury trains, agrees to retell the story of their relationship. It lasted nine months. His previous success as a fiction writer had been modest, and his only effort at a novel abandoned, until Agnes rekindles his interest. AGNES is Swiss author, Peter Stamm's first novel (1998) and for those familiar with his most recent novel, Seven Years, his style and, in particular, the depiction of human relationships and personality traits in the narrator/central character will be recognizable. This novel being much shorter, more a novella, he touches on themes effectively without developing them, however, in comparable depth to later novels.

Agnes is something of a loner and not particularly attractive: a physics student, writing a doctoral thesis on the symmetry in crystals, she prefers touching objects to being touched, even accidentally, by people. Nonetheless, she attaches herself quickly to the narrator, in an all-or-nothing kind of way. Initially, the narrator, considerably older than Agnes, appears only intrigued, his flirtations with her casual. "My freedom had always mattered more to me than my happiness.
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Format: Hardcover
This, the first sentence, intrigued me enough to borrow this novella from the library.
My overall impression is of a very 'cold' book, written by an unnamed narrator (he reminds me somehow of the narrator in Camus' 'L'etranger') in short abrupt sentences. We learn how he prizes his freedom over relationships, how he goes to a rundown cafe 'because none of the waitresses knew me or talked to me'.
While researching his latest book at the Chicago Library, he encounters Agnes, a physics student. Although she comes across as pretty weird too, we are only seeing her through his eyes.
Soon she asks him to write a book about her. This begins harmlessly enough as he recalls their first dates; soon he starts to imagine how their future will be:
' "You'll be wearing your navy blue dress", I said.
"What do you mean?" she said in amazement.
"I've overtaken the present", I said. "I know the future." '
As issues arise in their life together, he comes up with imagined resolutions to them...
A book you could certainly study and ponder what Stamm was getting at but for me personally not an enjoyable read.
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