Top positive review
16 people found this helpful
on March 8, 2008
"Wandering, what a brilliant, light blue joy you are!"
If the absolute inevitable truth of every word of that sentence isn't immediately clear to you, you may not be the kind of reader who will be knocked off your feet by Robert Walser, whose typical prose piece is always a kind of wandering. The most acclaimed piece (and the best, I think) in this collection is in fact titled "The Walk," a perfectly honest title that serves to summarize the plot.
If you're one who needs beginnings, middles, and ends...
If you insist on naturalistic dialogue...
If you want at least a modicum of happening...
you may not be the kind of reader who will rave about Walser to your friends, as I have been doing since I started reading him a couple years ago.
Walser was roughly a contemporary of Franz Kafka, who read and seems to have been influenced by Walser. Although Walser wrote four long pieces usually labeled as novels, his most characteristic works are short sketches, two to ten pages, only rarely resembling anything most people would call a story. Some of Walser's work was published in his lifetime, and he had a coterie of distinguished fans like Hermann Hesse. Then, after 1933, when he was committed to a "madhouse," he was as forgotten as a politician's promise. His rediscovery began with American and English readers, especially translator Christopher Middleton.
By our times, Walser is widely perceived as a pioneer surrealist; his work certainly has surreal effects, but his intentions, as I read him, were never to extend reality but merely to capture it as he alone saw it. That he was, perhaps, slightly mad and certainly eccentric did refract his vision in unexpected and original colors. His subject, even when writing in his not-fooling-anyone disguise as a simple man, was always his own strange, joyful, aimless personality.
Catch the word "joyful" there! Walser is NOT a depressing writer. He's a man enchanted with everything, from mustard to mountains. He's wry, salty, silly, satirical, and sooo penetrating.
The translations in this collection are close to the character of Walser's "wandering" German. There's another collection - Masquerade - translated by Susan Bernofsky. I prefer Bernofsky somewhat for syntactical cleverness in translating, but this collection includes The Walk, the most picturesquely brilliant of all Walser's prose.
Some critics have said that Walser was a columnist before there were columns, and it's easy to imagine Walser being a huge success reading his pieces on NPR, but for all their apparent inconsequentiality, Walser's works have a profundity that will accumulate as you read.