Friday, March 23, 2018

Landscape splinters

... All around them the mountaintops rose up into the clear sky. Marie thought they looked as if they were made of porcelain, and although Egger had never seen porcelain in his life he agreed with her. You'd have to be careful walking there, he said; one false step and the whole landscape might crack, or shatter straight away into thousands of tiny landscape splinters. Marie laughed. 'That sounds funny,' she said. 
    'Yes,' said Egger.  Then he bowed his head, not knowing what to do next...

Robert Seethaler's novella A Whole Life, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins, tells the story of Andreas Egger, a shy farmhand who experiences the transformation of the Alps through the development of skiing and mountain tourism.  Reviewers have likened it to John Williams' Stoner (I wouldn't disagree) and seen its success as a reaction against our globalised online world.  I mention it on this blog because it is also a book about landscape, albeit a fictional one.  'I invented all the places in the book,' Seethaler has said, 'but of course I do have memories, or emotional memories, of my childhood experiences in the mountains. The wonderful silence of the snow; and also the dangers of the mountains themselves — you don’t forget things like that.'  The destructive force of nature plays an important part in the book, but so does that of the construction workers, felling trees and blasting rocks, clearing the way for the cable cars that will bring tourists onto the high peaks that have been Egger's home.  The mountains are defenceless against the twentieth century - fragile, like porcelain.  Yet in the end this is a hopeful book, and if a 'whole life' can encompass ruptures, ruin and loss, then a landscape too can change and endure.

No comments: