Friday, 8 January 2016

Epitaph for a Working Man, by Erhard von Büren (translation by Helen Wallimann)

Reviewer: by JJ Marsh

What we thought: The first English translation of Erhard von Büren’s Swiss novella Abdankung is a quiet, understated and thoughtful piece which leaves echoes. Haller, an elderly man lives out his days in a care home, doing the odd job here and there in his previous role as a stonemason.

His son narrates the tale with a mixture of detachment and close observation of the minutiae of daily life in a cool, almost dazed prose. Life and death, unemployment and keeping busy, infidelity and the practicalities of being a house husband occupy his mind while an undercurrent of concern and curiosity regarding his father draw him back to Breitmoos and the Löwen pub.

The tone of distanced yet genuine love creeps up on you so that the reader begins to feel true affection for old Haller and his preoccupations – his insistence on working for two francs an hour, his opinion of the doctor who would set up a practice in a village without a pub, his bluff regard for his neighbours.

Somehow, this book has a very Swiss-German quality. On the surface, it is remote and unemotional. Yet there is real warmth and heart to these characters which makes them hard to leave. As if you didn’t realise how much you’d miss them till they were gone.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: L’Etranger by Albert Camus, The Twin by Gerhard Bakker, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Avoid if you don’t like: Quiet storytelling, undramatic episodes

Ideal accompaniments: A selection of Swiss cheeses, coffee with Kirsch and Herbert Grönemeyer playing in the background.

Genre: Literary fiction, In Translation

Available on Amazon

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